PEOPLE with HIV are regularly bullied at work because of their health status while many are afraid to disclose their condition because of a fear of stigma and discrimination, according to campaigners.
One person is now being diagnosed with HIV every day in Ireland, with over 4,600 people now living with HIV and AIDS.
The most recent Irish figures indicated that the first half of 2007 yielded 204 new diagnoses — 21 more than the same period in 2006 and 50 more than the second half of 2006.
An Irish Government delegation is this week attending a UN global review of HIV and AIDS and yesterday renewed its Stamp Out Stigma campaign, to combat discrimination against patients.
The HIV positive representative on the Irish delegation, James O’Connor, said that stigma is a “painful reality” for those with the virus.
“Many of us living with HIV are fearful of disclosing that we are HIV positive due to the lack of awareness of how HIV is, and most importantly, how HIV is not transmitted.”
He said that his own experience of stigma and discrimination “almost caused me to end my life through suicide”.
Now working with Dublin-based charity Open Heart House to support people living with HIV, Mr O’Connor said he hears “extraordinary accounts” of how HIV positive people are being treated.
“People report being bullied by their work colleagues when they hear that the person is HIV positive. A fellow member of Open Heart House has recently been asked to leave their accommodation because of their HIV positive health status.”
Mr O’Connor said the social side of living with HIV in Ireland didn’t start to improve until the Government committed to addressing HIV-related stigma and discrimination by launching the national Stamp Out Stigma campaign in 2006.
“The UN delegation marks a genuine commitment by government towards developing the involvement of people living with HIV and AIDS in both the national and international response to addressing HIV and AIDS.”
A total of 402 people are now known to have died in Ireland as a result of AIDS, while 25 million worldwide have died.
Ireland’s record has been good by international standards, according to Mr O’Connor, as a result of the implementation of two separate strategies covering prevention, care, treatment and support programmes for those most affected by HIV.
According to UNAIDS 33.3 million people are living with HIV and AIDS today around the world.
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