Speech by Ms. Áine Brady T.D. , Minister of State at the Department of Health and Children at the 8th Nordic HIV Conference
Ladies and Gentlemen, it gives me great pleasure to be here today, to open this, the 8th Nordic HIV Conference, being held this year for the first time in Ireland.
I would like to welcome all those who are attending this two-day event in Croke Park – especially those of you travelling to Ireland from overseas.
National AIDS Strategy Committee
As part of my portfolio of Minister for State with responsibility for Older People and Health Promotion, I chair the National AIDS Strategy Committee which was set up in 1992 in response to the emerging HIV crisis. This committee has, over the years, led the way in developing policy in the areas of HIV surveillance, treatment and prevention in Ireland.
The committee was set up as the Government’s response to an emerging situation. Over the years the committee produced a number of reports and strategic documents to guide and inform our response to HIV treatment, surveillance and prevention. As our knowledge of, and treatment options for HIV have evolved over the years, it was decided in 2008 to review the roles and functions of the National AIDS Strategy Committee and its sub-committees. A cross-sectoral review group conducted the review and concluded that, once an appropriate structure existed to provide leadership in the areas of HIV and sexual health, the functions of the National AIDS Strategy Committee and its sub-committees would best be incorporated into such a structure. So in the future, HIV policy will be embedded as an important element of the overall broader sexual health policy perspective.
Figures published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre on newly diagnosed HIV infections in Ireland in 2008 showed that in Ireland, as in so many other countries, there continues to be many new cases of HIV diagnosed each year. In 2008, there were 405 new HIV diagnoses made in Ireland which was an increase of 3.6% compared to 2007. This brought the cumulative total number of HIV infections reported in Ireland to over 5,000.
These figures show that, in spite of all the good work that has been done, and all that has been achieved to date, we must remain vigilant and ensure that we do not become complacent when it comes to HIV prevention! We must ensure that policy and practice work together to help address the levels of HIV incidence.
While the prevention message has reached a large proportion of society, the statistics clearly show that there are still many people who are engaging in risky behaviours. It is essential that we identify the reasons for this so that targeted prevention programs can be delivered in order to address this situation.
NASC Education and Prevention Plan 2008–2012
Preventing HIV and AIDS and promoting safer sexual practices have been priorities for the health and education sector for some time and clearly this effort must continue into the future. In 2000 both the National Health Promotion Strategy and the Report of the National AIDS Strategy Committee acknowledged the need to further enhance sexual health promotion efforts. This has resulted in very significant investments and service developments over the past number of years.
Last year the National AIDS Strategy Committee Education and Prevention sub-committee launched its Education and Prevention Plan 2008 – 2012. This Action Plan aims to provide a roadmap for HIV and AIDS Education and Prevention for the next four years and presents six key areas for action among seven population groups at particular risk of HIV. The plan was developed by the Education and Prevention sub-committee of the National AIDS Strategy Committee and was informed by research conducted by the National University of Ireland, Galway and by the findings of the Irish Study of Sexual Health and Relationships. The Education and Prevention Sub-Committee are currently examining how the various recommendations might be advanced in the current challenging economic climate.
Working in Partnership – Stamp Out Stigma
Whenever I quote statistics on new HIV diagnoses, I realise that it tends to take away from the fact that those affected by HIV are people and not numbers. People who are not only living with HIV but people who are subject to HIV related stigma and discrimination and who may be experiencing exclusion. To address this, a National campaign to combat stigma and discrimination against people infected with HIV was carried out in 2007.
The Department of Health and Children and Irish Aid co-funded this campaign, called ‘Stamp Out Stigma’, with the aim of tackling HIV related stigma and discrimination and promoting a greater understanding of HIV in Ireland. It was conducted by a cross-sectoral multi-stakeholder forum, which included representatives from both domestic and international civil society organisations working with HIV. The committee was chaired by Noel Walsh, who unfortunately is no longer with us, and even though the initially funded one year period has expired, the committee continues to work towards addressing the challenges of Stigma and Discrimination.
Conference Theme: Healthy Body – Healthy Mind
The need for a campaign to Stamp Out Stigma demonstrates how the experience of living with HIV is not solely a medical matter. The significance of the theme of the conference: Healthy Body – Healthy Mind can only be fully appreciated by those whose experience of living with HIV is impacted by the attitudes they encounter, or strive to avoid. Those of us who have never felt the stress caused by the pressure of concealing a HIV infection or the impact of being openly HIV-positive and living with whatever consequences arise can only imagine the impact this has on one’s physical well-being.
Here in Ireland, statutory health care providers address the medical needs of those living with HIV, free of charge. The psychosocial needs are further addressed by the many organisations involved in the HIV Services Network. This network provides for improved cross-sectoral co-operation and skills development amongst those working within the HIV sector in Ireland.
Similarly, this conference is another example of different sectors working in partnership – as well as being a multi-national collaboration. I am sure that this has resulted in the success of the previous Nordic HIV Conferences. While this is the first time that a Nordic HIV Conference has been held in Ireland, I trust that it will provide valuable opportunities for discussion and learning and that the outcomes of this year’s event will be just as productive and informative as previous years. I would like to conclude by wishing you all two very rewarding days here in Dublin.