Social stigma deters HIV-infected people from seeking help

MORE than one-third of the 318 people diagnosed with AIDS in Ireland last year were born in sub-Saharan Africa.

However, support groups are finding that social stigma associated with the infection is preventing people from coming forward early or making the most of the treatment services available.

Ann Nolan, executive director of Dublin AIDS Alliance, said that increasing numbers of African-born people are availing of its services but they are doing so despite cultural discrimination towards people who test positive.

She stressed that there was no substance to claims that people were seeking refuge in Ireland because they had contracted HIV and said that health awareness campaigns would work better than the mandatory testing of all immigrants.

She said: “The vast majority only find out they are HIV positive when they are screened in Ireland.

“We are seeing increasing numbers from Africa in recent years, but they are coming from cultures where there is a lot of completely irrational stigma around AIDS.

“That stigma and discrimination is a huge barrier to providing support. There are people afraid to go for testing, afraid to access support and afraid to let it be known that they have AIDS.”

In recent years there has been a substantial growth in the number of women who are testing positive and many of those are finding out when they attend pre-natal clinics.

Trends have also shown that AIDS is not increasing among gay men but the rising level of cocaine use is contributing to a different drug culture where needle sharing is more prevalent and undermines existing control measures.

Health Services Review UCD Professor William Powderly, who heads a €1 million AIDS research project, says that drugs misuse is still a major factor in the spread of the infection.

He said: “If you look at the Irish epidemic, people who identify themselves as heterosexuals are more common than homosexuals and part of that is drug use.

“Not only does a drug user pass HIV to another person by sharing needles, but they also can pass it to another person, their sexual partner.”

There are approximately 4,000 people in Ireland who have tested positive for HIV and approximately 2,500 of those live in Dublin City.

Due to deficiencies in the collection of data, the background of 42 of last year’s new cases of HIV was not available.

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