20th World Aids Day – Stigmatisation and Discrimination in Ireland

Today is International World Aids Day. Often portrayed as a health issue, it is far more complex than that involving important human rights issues in relation to such issues as discrimination, access to health services, and the provision of adequate support services.

In Ireland recent data shows that nearly 5,000 people had tested positive for HIV by June 2008, with 170 new cases being seen in the first half of the year. In the run up to the 20th World Aids Day the stigmatisation of those who live with HIV has been highlighted. In the first national report on HIV related stigma and discrimination published on November 26th by Stamp Out Stigma. Commenting on the report, Ciaran McKinney, vice-chair of the campaign stated “The studies found that people living with HIV experienced significant levels of stigma and discrimination across a wide range of areas: in families, among friends, in the workplace and in accessing health and social care services.”

Significantly, the findings include the fact that 49% of those living with HIV reported that they were discriminated against by their friends, and 28 % that they had experienced discrimination from their families. 54% of the general public and 84% of people living with HIV agreed that people with HIV are viewed negatively by society. Whilst the general public in the main felt that people with HIV should not feel ashamed of their condition, a significant proportion (23%) reported that they would worry about sharing a meal with someone with HIV, illustrating a worrying lack of understanding about the virus.

Discrimination against people living with HIV is of course illegal in Ireland under the Employment Equality Act 1998 and the Equal Status Acts 2000 and 2004. In addition, the Equality Authority has previously indicated that it would take up cases of discrimination based on HIV and AIDS although no such cases have yet been seen. What is not clear is why that is the case, although stigmatisation and the fears of people living with HIV and AIDS may well be a factor. Clearly at a minimum more education and advocacy work about HIV and AIDS is needed to promote greater awareness and understanding. But with the recent budget cutting the Equality Authority’s budget by 43% spending in this area generally is unlikely to see a large increase in the near future.

However, whatever the financial climate it is important to remember that “The promotion and protection of human rights must be at the centre of all aspects of an effective response to HIV and AIDS” (Amnesty International).