- 15 Aug 18
Sexual health activist Adam Shanley discusses how the Irish government should respond to groundbreaking findings revealed at last month's International Aids Conference.
At this year’s International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam, researchers confirmed the chances of a HIV-positive person with an undetectable viral load – supressed through medication - infecting a sexual partner are scientifically equivalent to zero.
Following these findings, Adam Shanley, Sexual Health Outreach Worker at the Gay Men's Health Service, is calling for a greater promotion of the U=U (undetactable = untransmittable) message from the Department of Health.
“Conversations about viral suppression are largely contained within the doctor’s office and among those living with HIV. There’s a need for a national campaign around what U=U means,” says Shanley. “It’s not just important for people living with HIV to know they won’t pass on the virus. It is a tool for dismantling stigma from the wider population around the illness.”
A study from HIV Ireland last year revealed that out of over 1000 surveyed, 24 per cent incorrectly believed HIV can be passed through kissing. Meanwhile, 11 per cent thought the disease can be transmitted by coughing or sneezing, with a similar proportion thinking it can be spread by sharing a glass (10%) or a public toilet seat (9%).
Shanley attributes these stats to the negative narratives associated with the illness from the 80s and 90s. “The last time we nationally spoke about HIV was when it was at its previous heights. There was scaremongering, misunderstanding and worry,” says the activist. “When HIV medication came along, it contained the issue. However, scars were left in people’s psyche about the risk and threat of those living with the virus.”
Speaking to Hot Press, the Department of Health says in the coming weeks the Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) will undertake a Health Technology Assessment on a HIV PrEP programme. The plan will make anti-HIV medication available for those at risk of contracting the virus through the Health Service Executive (HSE). The Department says they are ‘committed’ to ensuring the programme will be rolled out in 2019.
However, Shanley says this plan should include an effort to spread the concept of U=U. “Its important people understand the message and see positive representations of those living with HIV in the media in order to tear away the stigmas,” argues the activist. “There’s a responsibility on the health service and our politicians to not sit on this undisputable evidence but to action and share it.”
Shanley took time to praise Mylan’s HIV self-test kit released recently in pharmacies but also to remind people of the product’s limitations. “It offers testing to those who may not link with health services so it’s definitely welcome. It’s important though people know the time it takes for the test to recognise if someone is positive is 90 days after the potential exposure,” says Shanley.
He advises those believing they’ve been subjected to the virus to access a sexual health clinic or an emergency department within 72 hours. There they can take PEP, an anti-HIV drug which aborts a new infection if taken close to the exposure.
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