People Diagnosed with HIV

Part of Private Members' Business – in the Northern Ireland Assembly at 12:45 pm on 29th November 2016.

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Photo of Trevor Clarke Trevor Clarke DUP 12:45 pm, 29th November 2016

I support the motion. As already noted by one of the Members who spoke today, Thursday is World AIDS Day. I should put on record that we tabled the motion as close to Thursday as possible in order to give the topic the most impact. When I came here in 2007, I would have dismissed the possibility that I would speak about HIV today, because I was one of those who did not understand the stigma attached to it.

I am not trying to get a rise out of Mr McCann when I say this, but I feel that his amendment, had he moved it, would have been unhelpful to people who, like me, were ignorant of the fact that this disease can affect heterosexuals. I have to put on record my thanks to Jacquie Richardson from Positive Life. Meeting her for the first time was a turning point for me, having been ignorant of the fact that the disease also affects heterosexual people. For that reason, I have no difficulty supporting what the motion calls for. The work that Positive Life did in changing my opinion — not only my opinion but that of many others — helped to remove the stigma.

Mr McCann's amendment would have added to the stigma. Maybe those who are bisexual or gay do have a statistically higher risk, but his amendment brought that into the equation and amplified it. I think that we should talk about all who suffer with this condition; not just those who have the highest risk. For that reason, I support the work that Positive Life does, and I support the call for a centre of excellence. The work that the organisation does helps to dispel the myths. My colleague referred to the 61% of people who feel ashamed — nobody should feel ashamed because they have this condition. They need the support of us and others to try to overcome that so that they can live as long and normal a life as possible.

I do not want to stir things, but there was an interesting TV programme on last week about the end days of Freddie Mercury and his battle with the disease. When it came on, I thought, "I am not going to watch this", because the stigma of what the disease is about was starting to come back, but I watched it to its conclusion. I know that Freddie Mercury died relatively recently, but one of the things that struck me — this came across in what Paula said about drugs — was how what can be done to help people who suffer with HIV has moved on. We should be giving people hope that things can be done to extend their life. Not one of us in the Chamber today knows how many days we have. Not one of us knows what illness we might have as we stand here today. We should look to the future and try to live as long and as healthy a life as possible. For me, whether it be through drugs or other support, we should support people with HIV, give them a better quality of life and remove that stigma because, as I say, no one should be ashamed because they have this condition. Many of us could have life-limiting diseases of other sorts, and we will not feel ashamed about that. We will want to live our life to the fullest. The work that Positive Life has done will make it easier for people who have the condition to live a fuller life, and they will know that they have support mechanisms in that organisation. I support the motion.