Home > HIV in Ireland: knowledge, attitudes and stigma.

Millar, Sean (2018) HIV in Ireland: knowledge, attitudes and stigma. Drugnet Ireland, Issue 64, Winter 2018, p. 8.

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Recent research published by HIV Ireland examined national HIV knowledge and attitudes and the stigma associated with HIV.1 HIV Ireland is a registered charity operating at local, national and European levels. The principal aim of the organisation is to contribute towards a significant reduction in the incidence and prevalence of HIV in Ireland and towards the realisation of an AIDS-free generation. The present study involved the development of two surveys. The first survey aimed to measure knowledge and attitudes among the general Irish population. The second survey measured stigma and the experiences of those living with HIV. Subjects were required to be 18 years of age or older and the surveys were completed by 1,013 and 168 respondents, respectively.


HIV knowledge and attitudes among the general public

Almost all adults (98%) correctly thought that HIV can be transmitted by sharing needles and syringes. A similar proportion correctly thought that HIV can be transmitted by a man and a woman, or a man and a man, having sex without a condom. However, the study found that myths in relation to HIV transmission remain and that young people had less correct knowledge than older people in relation to most methods of HIV transmission. Misperceptions regarding HIV transmission among the general public included the following:


70% of respondents believed HIV can be transmitted through a bite.

24% believed HIV can be transmitted through kissing.

10% believed HIV can be transmitted through sharing a glass.

9% believed HIV can be transmitted through using a public toilet.


The authors also noted that over one-half of respondents believed that HIV can be transmitted through a blood transfusion. While theoretically possible, this is not a reality given the safeguards and screening used in Ireland. HIV Ireland suggested that this assumption may negatively affect experiences of health services.


Stigma and experiences of those living with HIV

The second survey found that stigma and the fear of stigma affect how people living with HIV experience their lives. Around two-thirds (61%) of people feared being rejected in a relationship and around half of this number (32%) had actually been rejected. Fifty-four per cent of respondents were single compared to 38% in the general population.


The majority (61%) of people living with HIV had not disclosed their HIV status at some point, as they were afraid they would be judged or treated differently if they did. The stress that stigma can cause may explain why in the past year almost one in five (17%) respondents living with HIV had felt suicidal. More than one-third also reported having suffered from low self-esteem, anger, felt guilt or shame, and blamed themselves for their HIV status.


Other key findings among subjects living with HIV included the following:

88% thought that some members of the general public believe that living with HIV is shameful.

35% agreed that some people do not want to associate with them, and 38% believed that some people think they deserve to have HIV.

A majority believed that it was more stigmatising to have contracted HIV through sex (76%) and through injecting drug use (67%).

18% of respondents living with HIV have had their HIV status disclosed accidentally in a hospital setting.



The authors suggest that knowledge in the general population regarding HIV transmission is relatively good, potentially highlighting the work done in relation to HIV awareness-raising in Ireland. Nevertheless, the study indicates that there is some room for improvement, in particular with regard to knowledge gaps and misperceptions among younger adults. Stigma still persists and affects the everyday lives of people living with HIV. While stigma is most sorely felt by the person immediately impacted upon, society at large is not immune from the effects resulting from HIV-related stigma, as it may reduce the likelihood of people getting tested. HIV Ireland hopes that this research will highlight these issues and provide data to support informed education, awareness-raising, and effective policy development.


1  HIV Ireland (2017) HIV in Ireland 2017: Findings from the (1) National HIV Knowledge and Attitudes Survey 2017 and (2) People Living with HIV Stigma Survey 2017. Summary report. Dublin: HIV Ireland. https://www.drugsandalcohol.ie/27920/

Item Type
Publication Type
Irish-related, Open Access, Article
Drug Type
Substances (not alcohol/tobacco), Opioid
Intervention Type
Harm reduction
Issue Title
Issue 64, Winter 2018
February 2018
Page Range
p. 8
Health Research Board
Issue 64, Winter 2018
Accession Number
HRB (Electronic Only)

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