The iconic red ribbon associated with HIV awareness is symbolic of compassion for those living or dying from HIV and AIDS.

The idea for the red ribbon was established in 1991 after a group of 12 artists from New York were charged with creating a symbol to illustrate the fight against HIV. It provides a visible expression of empathy for those living or dying from HIV and AIDS. Red was chosen as it is bold and visible. Since 1991, the symbol has become universally recognized.

Ireland and HIV: A Timeline

The first cases of AIDS was diagnosed in Ireland in 1982 and reported in 1983. The infection was found in a number of gay men, who were diagnosed with Kaposi sarcoma (KS). Similar cases of Kaposis and unusual pneumonia were appearing in U.S cities along the east and west coast.

Huge work ensued to identify the mysterious virus which was being dubbed as GRID, or a gay related immunodeficiency.

1982: The Ana Liffey Drug Project was founded. This service was the first of it’s kind in providing active drug users with a low threshold – harm reduction system. This offered on-going support as opposed to insisting on dominant abstinence. The support model was later replicated all over Ireland.

1984 to 1986: HIV virus is finally isolated, identified and named by Françoise Barré-Sinoussi, and Luc Montagnier at the Pasteur Institute in Paris, and by Robert Gallo in the USA.

1985: Contraception is made legal in Ireland.

1985: First cases of the HIV infection are identified in Ireland as the number of hemophiliacs infected through blood products drastically increases. HIV affects the intravenous heroin using community in inner city Dublin , rapidly spiraling out of control.

1986: Dublin Aids Alliance is founded with others NGO’s around the country following suit.

1987: Prof Fiona Mulcahy, the first Genito-Urinary medicine (GUM or Sexual Health and HIV) consultant is appointed to St.James’s Hospital. This quickly becomes the national referral centre for HIV related problems though similar sites in Cork, Dublin, Limerick, and Galway would follow.

1987: AZT or Zidovudine becomes the first anti-HIV medication to be approved by the FDA in the USA. Ireland had good access to this drug. In 1989, the Merchants Quay Project service to drug users also becomes involved with the issue of HIV.

1989: The first needle exchange program opened in the Eastern Health Board’s AIDS Resource Centre.

1991: The national AIDS strategy committee was founded (NASC).

1992: It was found that 60% of HIV cases and 40% of AIDS cases were drug related. At this time debate continued to rage between abstinence policies Vs. needle exchange combined with methadone substitution for heroin.

1993: Following the Health (Family Planning Amendment) Act of 1993 condoms become widely available.

Early to Mid 1990: Palliative care and AIDS services become closely linked with the provision of specific beds in Harolds Cross Hospice to patients with AIDS, such is the demand for terminal care.

1995: Highly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy (HAART) becomes available. This triple drug therapy leads to huge drops in mortality rates around the developed world over the coming years.

2000s: rates of new HIV diagnoses in intravenous drug users continue to plummet. This is thought largely due to needle exchange and methadone maintenance treatment.

2000s: cases of HIV in gay men or men who have sex with men (MSMs) continue to rise along with new HIV cases in heterosexual and bisexual communities.

2013: There were 344 new HIV cases this year, a total of nearly 7000 now in Ireland. Of these 344 people: 46 % were MSMs, 38% were heterosexuals and 5% occurred in the intravenous drug using community. There were 3 mother to child transmission cases though none of these infections occurred in Ireland.

2014: The life expectancy of someone newly diagnosed with HIV is acknowledged by specialists to be virtually the same as that of a HIV negative person.

2018: The incidence rate of HIV has increased by 8%. The Irish government pledges to make PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) a free treatment that is available to the public by 2020.

Read about Robbie Lawlor's experience of Living with...H.I.V.

Written by Hannah Kingston | Approved by Medical Director Dominic Rowley