Irish AIDS Initiative was the name given to a major AIDS conference held on the last weekend of August at All Hallows College, Drumcondra, Dublin.
The conference was organised by AIDS Action Alliance - a coalition of all groups working on AIDS in the Republic - and the AIDS Helpline from Northern Ireland.
Significantly, over 100 people representing every spectrum of AIDS, from health care workers and religious to HIV+, ARC, and AIDS sufferers and volunteer health agencies were present at the intensive three day conference.
The purpose of the conference in the words of the organisers "was to develop and implement an effective strategy to insure that everyone who is affected by the virus has access to the support and service provisions they need and that people in Ireland receive the education necessary to prevent the spread of the disease".
Opening the Conference, Fr.Paul Lavelle, Co-ordinator of the Catholic Bishop's National Task Force on AIDS, said:
"We in Ireland are entering the second stage of the AIDS problem. Already there have been over 60 diagnosed cases of AIDS in the south alone and this is just the tip of the HIV iceberg. The number of people diagnosed with full AIDS is now doubling every seven months. It will not be long before we all know someone directly affected who have HIV, ARC or AIDS.
"This is a time to look critically at our approach to AIDS so far and plan to meet the ever-increasing demands it will make on our society.
"Living with AIDS is the theme I would like to see for this weekend. Our familiar images of AIDS are images of death - people cut down in the midst of life. The reality is something different. The vast majority of people with AIDS are young and in good health and need to take a positive attitude towards maintaining their health. People with AIDS have a lifethreatening condition but they can and do live useful and productive lives. For them above all the issue is 'Living with AIDs not Dying from AIDS'.
"It is by listening to those affected, the 'consumers of our services, that we will get it right (our response) and I know we can".
The Conference was also addressed by Maeve Foreman of the Irish Association of Social Workers who had shocking hews about the level of counselling services available throughout the country for people with AIDS or HIV+.
"Many hospitals have only one social worker on the staff, and some none at all", she said.
Statistics produced at the Conference showed a total number of 742 HIV+ for the Republic of Ireland as at May this year. The figures are generally regarded to be quite low and in some quarters it is thought they could be even twice those actually recorded. The figures unfortunately do not take account of large numbers living in Ireland who have been tested outside the country (e.g. in London) and consequently would not appear on the Department of Health's statistics.
In an attempt to deal with the inherent short-comings of the figures Gay Health Action (G.H.A.) launched a survey several months ago, the results of which are being compiled at the moment of writing.
G.H.A. were quick to point out that the results from the HIV testing system are simply not reliable. "Most gay men", they said, "choose not to take the test partly because insurance companies have refused to give life assurance to gay men who take the test - even if the result is negative. The fact that only 11 per cent of positive HIV tests have come from gay and bisexual men does not give a soundly based indication of the scale of the problem".
BILL OF RIGHTS
Undoubtedly the most important thing to come out of the Conference was the adoption of a draft Bill of Rights for people living with the various levels of AIDS and HIV+ infection.
Brian Murray, Chairperson of AIDS Action Alliance, who addresssed the Conference, said the Bill "would specify the rights people should have to proper health care, to adequate social welfare support and housing, to protection against discrimination in employment and to the support and counselling needed for living with HIV, ARC or AIDS in the community". A working group was set up at the conference to draft such a Bill of Rights.