To mark World AIDS Day 2016, The Rainbow Project, Northern Ireland’s largest support and advocacy organisation for lesbian, gay, bisexual and/or transgender (LGB&T) people and their families launched a new campaign designed to reduce new HIV infections to zero over the next 10 years.

The campaign, called ‘STEPS to ZERO’ outlines key measures which, if taken, will give the appropriate services and support to those living with HIV as well as equipping people with the skills and services which will allow them to manage their sexual health and prevent new infections.

Speaking on the launch of the STEPS to ZERO campaign, John O’Doherty, Director of The Rainbow Project said: HIV continues to be a serious public health risk and unfortunately, the number of new diagnoses of HIV has steadily increased over the past 10 years and gay and bisexual men continue to be disproportionately affected by the virus. This indicates that government’s approach to this public health issue has not had the desirable effect of reducing new infections.

‘To this end, The Rainbow Project are proposing a new and holistic approach to HIV with the intention of reducing new infections to zero over the next 10 years. This will require joined up working across government, health and social care and the community and voluntary sector and it will involve tackling the virus and its associated stigma on a number of fronts.

‘Our STEPS to ZERO campaign will focus on five key areas of work:

  • Support – We must ensure that people living with HIV have access to the best possible support services, including services specifically tailored to those groups most affected by HIV i.e. gay and bisexual men.
  • Testing – We must actively encourage all sexually active people to regularly test for STIs and ensure that testing services are accessible and receive appropriate investment.
  • Education –We must ensure that there is greater public education about HIV and its treatment. We must also ensure that all young people have access to appropriate sex health education in school to equip them to make informed decisions.
  • Prevention –We must take steps to actively prevent new infections through safer sex, access to Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) for at-risk groups and Treatment as Prevention (TasP) which renders people living with HIV non-infectious.
  • Stigma –We must eradicate the stigma which still surrounds HIV which arose from the homophobic prejudice and discrimination experienced by those first diagnosed with HIV and how governments failed to respond to the infection.

‘We believe that by following these STEPS to ZERO we can end HIV within a generation. It is within our grasp but we need joined up work and public engagement to make this a reality. This must be our task every day, not just on World AIDS Day. Please support this campaign by signing up on our website and pledge to do what you can to end the HIV crisis once and for all.’