There is still a ‘huge amount of ignorance and fear’ about HIV in Ireland, according to the owner of Dublin’s Pantibar.
Modern treatments mean people can enjoy long healthy lives after being diagnosed with HIV – with no danger of passing the virus on to others.
The treatment generally involves one pill a day and visit to the doctor twice a year.
On The Pat Kenny Show this morning, Rory O’Neill, who also goes by his drag name Panti Bliss, said things have changed completely since he was diagnosed in 1996.
He said he was just 26 years old when he got the diagnosis and was under no illusions as to what was ahead of him when he was told he between five and ten years to live.
He said he was told there were new treatments in the pipeline at his first meeting with his consultant – but he didn’t believe they would be successful.
“In the end, it turned out to be true,” he said.
“From the very beginning there was always this slow improvement as they developed new medications and then refined those and refined how to treat you until eventually, they got to a point where I am taking one pill a day and getting on with my life.”
Despite the improvements, Mr O’Neill said the stigma surrounding HIV is “still pretty enormous.”
“The treatments are now so well advanced that now essentially - I am going to use non-medical terminology here - it is a kind of a functional cure,” he said.
“I take this pill every day, I do it on automatic pilot; I get on with my life and I expect to live a long and healthy life just like anybody else.
“It also means I can’t possibly transmit the virus to anybody else.
“So, in a sense it feels like a cure but because technically it isn’t a cure - I have to keep taking that pill - and because that kind of treatment was a slow process … there was never a day when people opened up the newspaper and saw: ‘Ta-da HIV is cured.’
“So, because of that, I think there is still a huge amount of ignorance around it and still a lot of fear that clings to it from the terrible days of the 80s and 90s.
“It is still incredibly difficult for people to be open and honest about living with HIV.”
Mr O’Neill said his own personal circumstances make it easier for him to speak openly about it than it is for others.
“I am self-employed and my friends and family are very au-fait with where treatments are and all that,” he said.
“It is a much bigger ask to ask someone to be open about it if they are living in Cahersiveen and they are on the local football team and working in the local meat factory.
“To ask that person to be open about it is a much bigger ask so my own feeling is that it is not just important but almost necessary for people like to be open about it.”
Mr O’Neill was speaking to Pat to mark World AIDS Day 2021.
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