Today, December 1st, is World Aids Day. HIV Ísland will hold an event in Reykjavik to raise awareness and show support for people with HIV.
This year’s theme is “Right to Health” and at the event prominent people from the health institutes of Iceland will speak about the situation of sexually transmitted diseases in Iceland.
“We have an embarassingly high number of STD here in Iceland,” says Einar Þór Jónsson, project manager for HIV Iceland. “And we have to find a way to relieve the stigma of HIV and other STDs and be able to talk freely about them.”
24 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Iceland so far this year and last year there were 28 new diagnosis. Einar Þór says that this is obviously far too high a number for such a small nation but he is eager to point out that the numbers don’t tell the whole story.
“Many of the people who are registered as new cases of HIV are people, both Icelandic and foreign, who have been diagnosed elsewhere and moved to Iceland in the last year,” he explains. “So it’s not like there is an epidemic of new cases. Nevertheless we have to emphasize the responsibility of people for their own sexual health and the old cliche of practising safe sex, which is still very much an issue. It seems like we have somehow lost sight of that importance in the last years.”
“Too many people still think that being diagnosed with HIV is a death sentence and know very little about the disease and how it is transmitted. It’s still mostly considered a gay men’s disease.”
Einar Þór has been working for HIV Ísland for years and he is adamant that even though new medication has made life more normal for people with HIV and stopped the risk of transmitting the disease we have to keep the awareness of the risk alive.
“What I have found most frustrating in my work here is the stigma that still is attached to the disease,” he says. “It’s still almost a taboo to discuss these things and our most pressing agenda now is to get rid of that stigma. Sexually transmitted diseases are no different from any other diseases and it’s unbelievable that discussion about them is still considered unsuitable. We have to change that. We do know that we are not going to change people’s sexual behavior, that’s never gonna happen, so we have to shift the emphazis in how we handle the consequences.”
Asked how the work of HIV Ísland has changed over the years Einar Þór says that as always it is first and foremost about education and awareness, as well as support for people who have been diagnosed with HIV and their increased visibility.
“We go to schools and talk about HIV and try to open up the discussion about the disease and the evolution in treating it. Too many people still think that being diagnosed with HIV is a death sentence and know very little about the disease and how it is transmitted. It’s still mostly considered a gay men’s disease. Which is far from the truth, of course. One third of the people diagnosed with HIV are gay men, one third is people who get infected from injections and one third is heterosexual people, so obvisously this is a matter that concerns us all, not just the gay community.
“ … It’s still almost a taboo to discuss these things and our most pressing agenda now is to get rid of that stigma.”
It’s also important to increase the visibility of people with HIV, to make them unafraid to come out with the disease and make society understand that they are just normal people with a treatable disease and should not have to hide the fact that they have it. Hopefully we will be able to get that message through in the near future.”
The event for Worlds Aids Day will start at Messinn, Grandagarði 8, today at 15 o’clock and the duration is three hours. Everyone is of course welcome and admission is free. You can check out the event here.