Today, December 1st, is the annual World AIDS Day and this year the theme is “Know your Status” which encourages everyone to go and get tested. HIV Iceland will hold an event in it’s headquarters to celebrate. This year though the celebration will be more profound as it’s been 30 years since HIV Iceland was founded. GayIceland contacted Einar Þór Jónsson, project manager for HIV Iceland, and asked him what the highlights of these 30 years have been.
“The times have changed a lot in those 30 years,” Einar Þór says. “The new medication has completely changed the lives of people diagnosed with HIV and the newest of them all is the pre-eposure medicine PrEP that is a huge step forward in the battle against AIDS.”
Other medication means that people diagnosed with HIV can now live a normal life, and just have to take their medication daily like others with ongoing diseases like diabetes, Einar says, it’s no longer a death sentence to be diagnosed. Never the less there are still battles to be fought.
“It is a violation of human rights that you have to state your sexual preference and how you conduct your sex life to be able to give blood. Besides how can you trust that people are telling the truth about that?”
“The change that we would like to see at this juncture in our work is that people would change their attitude towards the disease,” he says. “It’s still a stigma to be diagnosed and people don’t talk about it openly if they have got the disease. I wrote an article to commemorate our anniversary where I looked at the Spanish flu epidemic in Reykjavik a hundred years ago and compared it to the HIV epidemic. In those days people stuck together and showed each other love and support if anyone contracted the Spanish flu. That is what I would like to see happen in the attitude towards people with HIV. Thirty years in we don’t experience a lot of support or understanding from the surroundings and that has got to change. Because it is still a very profound shock to be diagnosed and it changes people’s lives permanently.”
The next step in the battle is, according to Einar, to get rapid HIV tests more accessible for everyone. “Those tests have gotten to be quite reliable and the danger of a false diagnosis has almost been eliminated,” he says. “It would save the society a lot of money if these tests were readily accessible and it would provide the people afraid of having contracted the disease with a lot of safety if they could get them almost anywhere, as is the case in many countries we compare ourselves to.”
Lately there has been a lot of discussion in Iceland about the need to lift the ban of gay men donating blood and Einar says that it is of course ridiculous that ban is still active.
“All the blood donated to the Blood bank is screened so if someone with HIV would donate blood there is no way it would get through. It is a violation of human rights that you have to state your sexual preference and how you conduct your sex life to be able to give blood. Besides how can you trust that people are telling the truth about that? That approach is totally ineffective and the only thing it accomplishes is to increase the stigma and keep old prejudice alive.”
“The most important thing is though that we will get together, have fun and commemorate our achievements in good company.”
HIV Iceland has made a huge difference in the battle against the disease and in making the lives of those with HIV easier. How are they planning on celebrating this milestone of having been active for 30 years?
“There will be an event today, Saturday between 16 and 19 at our headquarters at Hverfisgata 69 and there will be a program of music and other fun things for the whole time. Hörður Torfason is going to come and sing for us, there will be unexpected occurrences from our sponsors and I suspect some speeches. The most important thing is though that we will get together, have fun and commemorate our achievements in good company. The event is open to everyone and you are all absolutely welcome to join us in this celebration.”