It’s easy for many to ignore World Aids Day. After all, HIV and AIDS have long been considered by many to be an issue that only concerns Africa and the LGBT community (even though we have been shown time and time again that it is not the case). However, opening the newspapers this morning and coming across an article full of local facts and figures, I could not let this day pass without comment.

We are a country in desperate need of education, and this extends to sexual health. We have one of the highest rates of HIV transmission in Europe with 81 new cases of HIV recorded in 2020. As a side note, we also have the highest teen birth rate in southern Europe beating Greece, Spain, Italy, Cyprus, and Portugal. Statistics like these indicate that something in our system is going very, very wrong. While other countries have managed to get their numbers down, ours seem to keep climbing. The sexual health revamp we were promised has been delayed once again as the information that had already been collected over several years was found to be outdated.

NGOs have called repeatedly for sexual health to be placed at the top of agendas, and yet politicians on both sides of the house continue to give citizens the run-around. For some reason, no one seems to be willing to address the elephant in the room, even though it’s getting harder and harder to push past it.

Even when it came to the updated HIV medication regime after last year’s disastrous shortage, many were still not sure about what would happen and when it would be their turn to receive the new medication. Situations like this lead to uncertainty and anxiety which could easily be avoided if things were more organised.

We have next to no local representation of the HIV community- Anna Marie Galea

The stigma that comes with a lack of education also remains palpable and blocks people from reaching out for help. Many still don’t know that if people living with HIV take their medication, they can’t pass it on to anyone. There are still a number of people who are scared to use the same facilities as someone who has HIV and book panicked appointments at the GU clinic to get tested despite having no reason to. Such things are the product of ignorance and make those who are living with HIV feel isolated, alone and abandoned.

People fear being labelled, and as a result, we have next to no local representation of the HIV community which means that others too will not speak out. There are over 500 people who live with HIV in Malta and yet this minority group has been rendered invisible. As usual, everyone seems to be adopting the tactic of ignoring things in the hopes that they will disappear. Perhaps if the numbers swell to as much as those who smoke marijuana, the HIV community will finally be able to get the attention it deserves.

I take this opportunity to again call on our government to stop acting like this is someone else’s problem. We need to stop clutching our pearls and acting like people aren’t engaging in sexual activity and instead provide enough education and resources for them to do so safely. Suggesting that people remain abstinent isn’t going to reduce numbers if it hasn’t so far, but education and better resources will. Let’s work so that by the time the next World Aids Day rolls around, there will be fewer new cardholders in the HIV community.

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