To mark 30 years of supporting people living with HIV in Galway and the West of Ireland, AIDS West are to host an international conference focusing on ‘HIV & Ageing’ on World AIDS Day, Friday December 1 at The Ardilaun Hotel, Galway.
The conference will discuss many aspects of HIV including HIV and Ageing – A Medical Perspective, Sex and relationships - Maintaining an active sex life as we age, HIV & Ageing - A personal experience, and HIV and the Continuum of Care.
The event is appropriate for people living with HIV and their families and friends, GPs, nurses and all frontline healthcare staff and sexual health staff who work with and support people living with HIV.
In addition, researchers, community organisations, drug services, counselling services, policy makers and commissioners, community leaders, community advocates and others with strong professional interest in HIV and Ageing are welcome to attend.
Manager of AIDS West, Joe McDonagh, describes HIV as a relatively new disease as the first known diagnoses of HIV occurred in Ireland in the mid 1980s, “These were the bad days and a time when people weren’t able to deal with it and the trauma around most aspects of it: medication was toxic (especially AZT ) and stigma and discrimination was rife, with misinformation and ignorance leading to many people keeping their diagnosis quiet.
“But we got through these days and now we are in a situation where, with good medication, most HIV positive people are living long and healthy lives and can expect to live as long, if not longer, than people who are not infected. Current figures suggest a life expectancy up to 75 years. Looking back again, things were so very different from now.
“We were a small voluntary organisation and a lot of work was being done with people who were finding it very difficult in the outside world, particularly in relation to discrimination and stigma. While we still fight issues around these, we persevered over the years and now have an organisation which provides support and information to all and an excellent education department that is providing talks and seminars to all sectors of the community, with emphasis on schools and colleges all over the West of Ireland,” he said.
Today’s picture is still of great concern to AIDS West, as in 2016 there were 512 notifications of HIV – this is a six per cent increase compared to 2015 and additionally there was a 10 per cent increase in the number of sexually transmitted infections (STIs ). The number of people diagnosed with HIV in Ireland is rising amid concerns that ambivalence about the disease is putting increasing numbers of people at risk.
Mr McDonagh further outlinesd that there is a common misconception that HIV is disappearing in Ireland and it is no longer a health issue.
“These statistics are very alarming and of great concern to us - the work of the AIDS West HIV support team and also the sexual health education team is paramount in attempting to address this issue. HIV testing is essential. People need to be aware of their HIV status and the sooner a person knows their status, the sooner they can start treatment. This then leads to much better long term health outcomes. Early diagnosis is also key, as HIV is often transmitted by people who are unaware that they are HIV positive,” he added.
AIDS West have been supporting people living with HIV in the West of Ireland since it was set up by a group of committed volunteers in 1987.