2019 was a strong year for HIV activists in Malta, and for World AIDs Day on Sunday, the Malta LGBTIQ Rights Movement took to Tigne Point to reiterate their stance in the fight against stigma.
They were joined by the Malta Medical Students Association, a strong traditional ally in HIV Activism.
The newly-elected committee decided to revive their commitment of ensuring that human rights apply equally to everyone, with its statute making specific mention of safeguarding the rights of people living with HIV (PLHIV).
Mark Josef Rapa, founder of the group PrEPingMalta has been advocating for access to PrEP, a preventative treatment which when taken daily stops the transmission of HIV by more than 99%, also covered the issues that arise from the virus itself and the stigma surrounding it in his column in the Independent.
PrEP has also led to a significant drop in HIV rates across a number of European cities, while Malta saw a rise of over 50% in 2018 and a reported 400 people being treated for the virus in hospitals around the island.
Following calls for easier access, PrEP finally became available for purchase in local pharmacies earlier this year. Until that point, people wanting to protect themselves had to buy the medication online. Name one other medication you’d be willing to buy off the internet, we’ll wait.
MGRM entered the forefront of Malta’s gay advocacy in September 2019, the same month that saw Checkpoint Malta set up – an NGO with hopes of extinguishing the taboo behind HIV and AIDs.
The launch was accompanied by a new website. The first of its kind in Malta, the site has since accumulated over 3,000 page views. Two of the most popular pages explain how to buy and use PrEP and a breakdown of how to cope with daily life post-diagnosis.
An interesting point to note is that while many groups have been campaigning for the public to increase their efforts in testing their sexual health regularly, the page on the site that details how to get tested is still only the third most popular.
This is further indicative of an assumption made regarding the national health policy.
While activism has been strengthening on the side of breaking stigma, 2019 still remains a poor year in regards to the collective health awareness of the country.
Statistics do indicate that people want to know their status, they want to protect themselves. As for those who are HIV+ still wishing for equal treatment, there is still a ways to go. The fight continues to align Malta’s HIV medical care with that of the rest of the continent.
Joe Grima, a representative within MGRM, said of the work the group has done so far:
“We can no longer accept that treatment which is no longer recommended by the European AIDS Clinical Society and World Health Organization is given out. February 2019 saw a missed opportunity with the launch of a flawed Request for Proposal (RFP) which indicated privatising HIV-related care.”
It is still unknown as to whether or not the RFP is still being considered, though expectations for a relaunch late this year still stand. MGRM and HIV Malta stress the urgency of this consideration, stating that unless the RFP includes PrEP trials, it is likely to fall behind as another missed opportunity.
Until then, the people march on. Through the Rainbow Support Services, MGRM and HIV Malta continue to provide free support to those affected by HIV and other members of queer communities.
The new year will see the launch of peer groups and buddy systems for people living with HIV. Support groups, together with constant dialogue with health professionals and policymakers, will continue to ensure that everyone is afforded the same dignity and standards worthy of a citizen of a modern European state in 2020.