New cases are down, but stigma remains the underlying challenge this World AIDS Day

The latest statistics for HIV in Northern Ireland are in and its really encouraging news. There has been a noticeable decrease in the number of new cases for the 2019-year, some fantastic news to cap a tricky year for HIV support services.

During 2019, there were 52 new diagnoses of HIV in NI, down from 84 recorded the previous year. Breaking these statistics down a little more, we now know that of these 52 new cases, 21 (40%) occurred through MSM (men who have sex with men) transmission, while 27 (52%) occurred through heterosexual transmission.

So what’s been the cause of this drop? Among the factors contributing to the reduction in new cases are greater levels of HIV awareness through the work of Positive Life, the availability of the PrEP drug, and the fact that advancements in medicine means, for some, that an undetectable viral load equates to HIV being untransmissible.

 Whilst all of this is definitely cause for optimism, we do need to remind ourselves that HIV is still a stigmatized issue. 2020 has been hard for our service users, as they endured all the ‘usual’ prejudices with extra Covid pressures, such as a lack of clarity around shielding, concerns around access to health services and for some, a sense of helplessness.

The statistics from the past few years show how indiscriminate HIV can be. Let’s not forget that. Let’s not live in ignorance this World AIDS Day. Take control of your sexual health, protect yourself and get tested.