GeneralInfectious Diseases

HIV Ireland – Ending HIV Means Ending HIV-related Stigma

Written by Stephen O’Hare, Executive Director, HIV Ireland

Stephen O’Hare is Executive Director of HIV Ireland.

HPN December 2021 Digital – page 80

This year marks the 40th Anniversary of the emergence of HIV and AIDS as a global epidemic. World AIDS Day (1st Dec) provides an opportunity to reflect on the toll taken by HIV. It is also to remember those lost to AIDS. It is also an opportunity to acknowledge key advances in prevention and treatment. This is in addition to evaluating current strategies to end new HIV transmissions once and for all.

UNAIDS, the dedicated agency leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat, estimates that, since its emergence, almost 80 million people have acquired HIV with more than 36 million lives having been lost to AIDS-related illnesses in that time.

In its recent strategy statement for the period 2021 -2026, the agency highlights the impact of inequalities that drive AIDS and other pandemics, including COVID-19.

Prominent among the driving inequalities hampering efforts to end HIV is stigma. Eliminating stigma is, therefore, a key component of any viable strategy to end new HIV transmissions.

Unfortunately, the phenomenon of HIV-related stigma, its causes, and its impact, receives considerably less attention. Although this is in comparison to some of the more tangible measures developed to treat and prevent HIV. Thanks to key advances in HIV medication over the years, the trajectory of the virus for those with access to effective antiretroviral treatment has dramatically changed. A person living with HIV, on effective treatment and who attains an undetectable viral load, cannot pass on HIV to a sexual partner. This fact, confirmed in multiple major scientific studies, is written in shorthand as “U equals U”. Put simply, when the virus is Undetectable, it is Untransmittable.

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