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Living with HIV: 'Please don't feel alone, or that your voice doesn't matter - it does'

A new campaign has been launched in Ireland ahead of World Aids Day tomorrow.

Liz Martin
Liz Martin
Image: Edelman

LIZ MARTIN WAS diagnosed with HIV in 1991 when she was 24 years old. 

She was a single parent with four small children, living in the west of Ireland and felt “totally isolated”. 

“At the time, information about the condition was limited. There were no HIV clinics in Galway,” Martin said. 

Following her diagnosis, Martin contacted a support group based in Galway. 

Speaking to TheJournal.ie, she said: “I have to say, it was a really, really wonderful experience to be able to meet so many people from different backgrounds, different cultures … it was only a small group, but everyone had a different story”. 

Since then, Martin has gone on to write a book about her experience and has arranged educational visits to schools to teach students and their parents about HIV. 

Today, she is speaking at the launch of a campaign which aims to raise awareness of HIV and highlight the key quality of life challenges and emerging needs of people in Ireland living with the condition. 

The purpose of the campaign is to empower people living with HIV to take a more proactive approach to managing their condition by engaging with their healthcare provider, while also increasing public awareness and understanding of the condition to help mitigate stigma and discrimination.

In a statement ahead of the launch, Martin said: “Thankfully, things have changed, there’s more information and supports available to the HIV community now.

“I want to encourage others living with HIV to reach out and seek support, especially at this difficult time of increased social distancing,” she said. 

Please don’t feel alone, or that your voice doesn’t matter – it does. Speak to your doctor about how you’re feeling physically and emotionally, there’s nothing they haven’t heard before and they’re there to help. 

Martin suggested that, if a person feels comfortable, they should speak to their friends and families about their worries or concerns.

She noted that people living with HIV still do face a number of adversities, at interpersonal and neighbourhood level, as well as in the workplace. 

“We can only change the conversation around HIV through open and ongoing communication,” she said. 

Survey

Research published today to coincide with the campaign, supported by HIV Ireland and Sexual Health West, surveyed 50 people in Ireland who are living with the condition about their experiences. 

The research found that 28 out of the 50 respondents said they are comfortable sharing their HIV status. 

The study also highlighted reasons why some respondents chose not to share their HIV status including worry that they would be seen or treated differently, worry it might affect friendships and worry that they might lose their jobs. 

When asked about the overall impact that living with HIV has had on their lives, 29 of the 50 respondents from Ireland expressed feeling positive. 

With regards to healthcare, a high proportion of respondents (37 of the 50) agreed that there is room for improving the way their HIV is managed medically. 

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Furthermore, 33 of the respondents said they feel comfortable discussing concerns about their emotional wellbeing with their healthcare provider. 

More than 9,300 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Ireland since the early 1980s. 

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