Meet Jacquie Richardson, the woman driving forward to campaign to raise awareness of HIV in Northern Ireland ahead of World AIDS Day on Friday 1st December.
What’s your role?
I’m the Chief Executive of Positive Life which is the only charity dedicated to supporting those living with HIV here in Northern Ireland.
What does Positive Life do?
Positive Life promotes a positive future for people living with or affected by HIV in Northern Ireland.
It has been making a positive contribution to the quality of people’s lives for over 30 years. Beginning life as the AIDS Telephone Helpline in 1986
Our work focuses to support people’s needs in a way that creates independence by providing a range of services such as rapid HIV testing, drop-in services, counselling and complementary therapies.
What have you planned for this World AIDS Day?
One of the key events we are co-hosting is with Belfast City Council and the Belfast Youth Forum called ‘Let’s talk about HIV’. Taking place on the 29th November this will be a youth led workshop for young people aged 14-17 exploring HIV / AIDs and sexual health education
This will really help create better understanding and open the debate about how young people feel about HIV here. Those who make up the forum will also have a chance to engage with politicians and decision makers during a Q & A session at Belfast City Hall.
And you also have a strong awareness raising function?
Yes, one of our key targets is to reduce the number of new cases of HIV in Northern Ireland. We have a strong lobbying and PR function which has helped get the message out there.
As needs of clients diversify and social and medical environments changes, it continues to respond to the challenges and stigma faced by those with HIV.
Although there have been around 100 new cases in 2016, there has been a reduction of 10% and we hope that this is because through our education piece, people are better informed and are empowered to take control of their own sexual health.
Is there still stigma around HIV in Northern Ireland?
Living with HIV is no longer the death sentence that it once was. Early diagnoses means that a treatment course can be determined with normal life expectancy
However, society in Northern Ireland is still remarkably conservative, often to the detriment of the promotion of HIV awareness raising. This is a barrier which is very difficult to overcome.
There is a notable level of denial with many here of the impact of HIV as a critical issue, which means that funding for awareness raising is nowhere near an acceptable level.
How can people get tested?
There should be no embarrassment or shame in getting a HIV test if a person feels that they are at risk.
Our strong advice is to come us at Positive Life headquarters at 20 Derryvolgie Avenue in south Belfast to get tested, or visit one of the many location across Northern Ireland.
Information on testing and Genitourinary Medicine (GUM) clinics is also available at www.sexualhealthni.info/gum-clinics-northern-ireland
For more information on Positive Life and HIV in Northern Ireland please go to www.positivelifeni.com