HIV charity wants more education needed to raise Aids awareness
Northern Ireland's only HIV charity has said there is "much work to do" to raise awareness about Aids after an MP said other diseases deserved more attention.
In correspondence with a constituent, the DUP's Sammy Wilson said there were areas of medicine and disease which "have not received the same attention as Aids and which affect far more people".
Mr Wilson said such diseases were not always as a result of lifestyle choices.
And he added that they "deserve higher priorities than they have been given at present".
On the eve of World Aids Day today, Positive Life declined to comment directly on Mr Wilson's words.
In an email sent last week to the constituent, who asked if the MP would wear a red ribbon supporting World Aids Day, Mr Wilson said other diseases had affected far more people than HIV and Aids.
The East Antrim MP said considerable resources had been put into dealing with Aids "sometimes at the expense of other illnesses which affect people, such as dementia and cancer, and which are not always as a result of their own behaviour".
Adding that he understood the concerns of his constituent, Mr Wilson said: "You will appreciate that there are people who suffer from mental health problems, dementia and cancer which also have a huge impact on their lives and which are equally deserving of resources."
The charity's chief executive Jacquie Richardson said: "World Aids Day is a focal point in the year for organisations like Positive Life.
"We are encouraged by the support from the political community, especially this week at the NI Assembly.
"We know that there is still much work to do in terms of education and awareness to help people understand about HIV in Northern Ireland.
"We hope to build on the call by the NI Assembly to enhance awareness here."
She was referring to the Assembly's first formal debate on HIV on Tuesday.
MLAs were told more than 900 people in Northern Ireland are now living with the condition.
They heard that during 2015 some 103 people were diagnosed with the virus.
That is the highest figure in a single year since records began being collated.
Just over 40% of HIV cases in Northern Ireland were as a result of heterosexual contact, it emerged.
Following the debate, Mrs Richardson said: "HIV in Northern Ireland is widely stigmatised and those living with the condition are often disparaged or devalued.
"Positive Life believes that if stereotypes around HIV were curtailed, HIV testing would increase, reducing undiagnosed and late diagnosis of HIV in Northern Ireland.
"There is a worrying upward trend in the number of those with HIV in Northern Ireland.
"The biggest challenge that people with HIV face is living with the stigma uniquely associated with the virus.
"They don't share the fact that they are living with this life-changing condition, and that has an ongoing impact on their mental health and their ability to just be and to live fulfilled lives.
"We warmly welcome this debate and the support from the MLAs."
Mrs Richardson added: "We now need to see this translated into financial support, awareness-raising to reduce the high level of stigma, increase levels of testing and the development of a sexual health strategy for Northern Ireland."