Monday 19 March 2018

We need to start talking about Aids here again

Bill Hughes lost many friends to the virus in the 1980s but says a new generation feels invincible

AFTER THE REFERENDUM: Television producer, Bill Hughes, who is to marry his long-term partner in Ireland
AFTER THE REFERENDUM: Television producer, Bill Hughes, who is to marry his long-term partner in Ireland
RTE DJ, Vinnie Hanley, one of the first high-profile people here to die from HIV.
Niamh Horan

Niamh Horan

One of Ireland's most respected TV producers, Bill Hughes, has urged RTE to start a conversation about Aids, as new HIV cases here reach their highest point in five years.

Hughes, who lost many of his friends to the illness in the 1980s, said the virus is spreading as today's young people believe they are "bullet proof".

The award-wining producer also stated that any discussions he has had with television stations to address the topic have been shot down.

"We have wanted to talk about it for a while but we haven't managed to get a commission for it. We are hoping that there will be some new forward thinking with regard to commissioning programmes.

Asked why the epidemic is being ignored he said: "We don't know. HIV just doesn't seem to be on the agenda. And it needs to be. It's not so much the ideas, it's the discussion," he added. We have the discussion and [then]… we just can't get traction on it."

His comments come as a recent report by the HSE's Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) show there were 377 new cases of HIV in 2014 alone. This represents an 11pc rise on the previous year.

Advocacy group HIV Ireland said the rise in new infections was a "great cause of concern" and said public debate on HIV and Aids was "being deafened by silence".

Mr Hughes said there is a feeling of invincibility among a new generation in their attitude towards the virus.

"It's coming back now because young people think they are bullet proof and that's shocking. And in the same way as I find it shocking that people get pregnant now outside of . . . you know . . . that young couples get pregnant. What shocks me about that is not that they are pregnant, it's the fact that they have unprotected sex."

Hughes tragically lost his mentor Vincent Hanley to the virus in 1987.

"A lot of my peer group, a lot of my college friends, a lot of the guys who came out at the same age I came out, got Aids and died," he says. "So I always wonder how come I didn't get it? And how lucky I am that I didn't get it?" He has a photograph of a dinner party at his house where there are eight male friends around the table and of the eight, Bill is the only survivor.

He explains that when many people he knew became infected nobody was aware at the time that it was contracted through sex. "By the time the virus took hold of their bodies they realised how you get it and they thought 'we better start being careful' but for so many of them it was too late. So there was a key few years of ignorance."

He compares this with today where a new generation still have unprotected sex despite knowing the dangers.

A survey of the sexual habits of young Irish adults by Lansdowne Market Research for RTE's Prime Time programme found at least 40pc of the group had a one-night stand with a stranger and more than one in two of these did not practise safe sex.

"It's the arrogance of youth . . . young people now are so arrogant they think they are here forever and nothing is going to impinge on their lives because they are being cared for and over cared for and if it does there is always a pill [they can take]. Would they just wake up and take responsibility," he says.

"It needs to be a big issue on Twitter and Facebook too and it needs to get across to the generation now. We want to make the programme of the proliferation about HIV diagnosis among young people, not just gay young people, but straight, it's just trying to get that out there."

Hughes, who heads up Mind the Gap Films, with business partner Bernadine Carraher is back working again after a series of health issues. In 2013 he suddenly started to lose the power of his legs due to spinal nerve damage.

He needed urgent surgery to restore him to full mobility but only weeks into his recovery from that operation, he fell back off a step outside his home and hit the back of his head on the concrete pavement. Complications of this injury led to kidney failure. He required long term care but it now back to full health.

But the future is looking a lot brighter to Hughes who has revealed that he is now planning to marry his long term partner Gary Hodkinson when same sex marriage is enacted.

The couple met 18 years ago on the night Princess Diana died. "I was in a club, Gary was in another club, we both popped into the same cafe. We sat near each other and started talking and we never stopped," he smiles.

"We have proposed to each other every year for as long as I can remember. Now that same sex marriage is finally here there's no other place that I'd rather do it than Ireland."

New hope for HIV victims as 18-year-old girl is 'cured' of the deadly virus

There are fresh hope for HIV victims after US doctors revealed that a French teenager has been functionally cured of the virus. The new development is helping to launch the largest trial ever aimed at curing patients of HIV. The French girl, whose case was presented at an Aids  meeting in Vancouver on Monday, was lost track of by doctors for about a year. Her parents had stopped the therapy for unknown reasons. When the girl was seen again by doctors, the virus was not active in her bloodstream as they had expected in a person who had stopped treatment. Doctors took the option of monitoring her and decided to only resume therapy if the virus rebounded. Now 18, and while the virus is still detectable, it's lying dormant and doesn't require drugs to keep it dormant.

Francoise Barre-Sinoussi, who won a Nobel Prize in 2008 for her co-discovery of HIV as the cause of Aids, said the case proves the powerful benefit of starting treatment as soon as possible.".

Drugs made by Gilead Sciences Inc. and GlaxoSmithKline Plc can reduce the virus that causes Aids to undetectable levels but don't completely clear it. The virus hides out in reservoirs in the body, avoiding eradication by the medications - and usually comes back if treatment is stopped. But it seems if scientists catch that early through a high level of drugs, they can prevent the virus from taking hold. Researchers now aim to replicate those results on a grander scale.

Sunday Independent

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