New study to examine stigma of living with HIV

People living with HIV are being sought to take part in a study being carried out by the Health Promotions Centre at NUI Galway.

The research study will examine the impact of stigma on the lives of people living with the condition in Ireland.

“One of the main aims of the study is to identify the situations in which people have experienced stigma and discrimination,” said Elena Vaughan, the PhD candidate conducting the research. “This will provide an evidence base for designing and implementing stigma reducing policies and interventions which are an essential part of the HIV response.”

Writing in the summer edition of the AIDS West newsletter “Happiness is Vital”, the only newsletter of its kind in the country focusing on HIV, she outlined that living with HIV is not what it once was.

“The advent of antiretroviral medication in the mid-nineties signalled a decisive turning point in the global AIDS pandemic. Since then, continued advancements in treatments have led to a point in which HIV is considered a chronic manageable condition. Now people living with HIV have a comparable lifespan with people who are HIV negative, can safely give birth to children free of the virus, and are even non-infectious when on effective and stable treatment regimes.”

However, the one area of life where things have changed little for people living with HIV is the social stigma still attached to the condition.

“HIV-related stigma can have a profound effect on people’s lives. Some choose not to disclose their status to friends or family for fear of the reaction. Some struggle with relationships and disclosing to partners. In some cases, people have been refused service by health care providers.

“The 2008 “Stamp out Stigma” report found that people with HIV are the third most likely to suffer societal discrimination in Ireland, after drug users and Travellers. Almost 25 per cent of respondents in that study said they would have concerns about eating a meal prepared by a person living with HIV. The same study found that 49 per cent of people living with HIV had experienced discrimination by friends while 37 per cent had experienced discrimination by a doctor and 34 per cent by a dentist.”

Ms Vaughan, a doctoral candidate in the discipline of health promotion at the School of Health Sciences at NUI Galway, outlined that HIV related stigma is also a major public health issue. Stigma is considered by leading researchers and bodies such as UNAIDS as one of the main driving forces in the epidemic globally.

“Given that in Ireland we saw a 34 per cent increase in new diagnoses last year better understanding HIV-related stigma and discrimination is an important public health goal.”

Anyone interested in taking part in confidential one-to-one interviews for the study or finding out more information about it should log on to www.hivstigmastudy.ie Participants must be over 18 and living with HIV for a minimum of five years.

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