LOVE monument transformed for European Testing Week

Iconic landmark covered with more than 600 HIV self-testing kits.
Photo: Chris Sant Fournier

To mark European Testing Week last week, the LOVE Monument in St Julian’s was covered with over 600 HIV self-testing kit boxes this morning to highlight the human element of those living with HIV, the stigma that is still tied to living with the virus, and also, the importance of regular HIV and sexual health screening.

This public intervention was part of the We Are Positive project created by artist Emma Grima and HIV and sexual health awareness NGO Checkpoint Malta, which invites people to walk in the shoes of those living with HIV, and who are affected by it, not just medically, but also socially. Dozens of activists, some living with HIV, others who are HIV negative, wore red ribbons, the symbolic image of HIV, while linking arms during the launch of the installation to highlight the We Are Positive message, that, first and foremost, we cannot simply think of HIV as a virus, while alienating the community living with HIV. 

We Are Positive is built on addressing three main issues tied to HIV in a local context: humanising HIV, recognising the challenges, both medical and social, those living with HIV face; reducing stigma tied to the condition which most do not know is no longer a death sentence due to scientific breakthroughs; and improving access to HIV care, both in terms of prevention and treatment. By focusing on the human element, this project aims to encourage, challenge, discuss, and promote change on all levels: be it political, public health, the education system, social services, the workplace, within the family, and among civil society and the general public. 

This project highlights that HIV can affect each and every individual, regardless of race, age,  gender expression, and sexual orientation. It also seeks to create a dialogue around HIV, while challenging the stigma tied to the condition which results in the lack of effective policy and understanding, affecting sexual issues in Malta. In the absence of an updated national sexual health policy; lack of understanding and comprehensive sexual education, as well as preventative PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) and PEP(Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) not being made available for free, Malta continues to see ever-growing numbers in terms of HIV diagnoses and other STIs (Sexually Transmitted Infections). 

We Are Positive is also taking place within the context of European Testing Week. Malta needs to continue to scale up its investment in testing and treatment for HIV and sexually transmitted infections if it is to meet the ambitious 95-95-95 target by 2025 set by UNAIDS. This being that 95% of people living with HIV (PLHIV)  know their status, 95% of PLHIV who know their status are on treatment, and finally, 95% of these PLHIV on treatment are virally suppressed, and therefore cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners. This scientific breakthrough has been given the name U=U, Undetectable=Untransmittable. Regular testing means infections can be detected early giving a better chance for those diagnosed with HIV to access effective care and treatment and be able to live a long, healthy life while also reducing the amount of HIV in their body to such low levels that they cannot transmit the virus to their sexual partners. 

During European Testing Week, Checkpoint Malta also organised a community testing session at the LGBTIQ+ HUB in Paola as part of its programme of  monthly free, fast and confidential HIV community testing sessions in Malta and Gozo which is supported by Aġenzija Żgħażagħ’s BeActive Scheme.

The public was encouraged to engage with the art installation by taking off a box. Inside they will find information about how, why and where to get tested for HIV and other STIs and a QR code link to further information via a webpage about the project.

Checkpoint Malta representative Jackie Roberts said: “We are very proud of the We Are Positive project, as it not only draws attention to HIV which is often overlooked, but also to the people living with it. Due to the stigma tied to this virus, many do not speak about their status and may feel isolated. This project shows that PLHIV are not alone and they can reach out to us at Checkpoint Malta by contacting community@checkpoint.mt Together PLHIV in Malta and Gozo can build a community and find a stronger voice.”

Emma Grima is a Maltese artist brought up in St. Julian’s, now based in the Netherlands.  She has this to say.

“As an artist, I work closely in collaboration with others.  I see myself as the creative glue in connecting the dots which helps educate, impact, liberate and empower others. I do this by telling stories that are silenced by creating interaction with the public. I want to start conversations and strengthen civil society. HIV is a heavily silenced and stigmatised topic that needs attention in Malta.” 

We Are Positive was created by artist Emma Grima and Checkpoint Malta, and developed in collaboration with MGRM, HIV Malta, Moviment Graffiti, LGBTI+ Gozo, with support from  Sexual Health Malta. The artist is guided by European Alternative’s Young Movement Campaign Accelerator Programme. 

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