Statement: We believe claims that HIV transmission occurred through needle attacks to Iceland staff are inaccurate and have fueled HIV stigma.
It was shocking to read about Iceland employees who have been attacked while doing their job, in a piece published on the MailOnline on Friday 15 September. We stand in solidarity with any workers who are attacked. The article included reports that three employees are now living with HIV after being stabbed with needles. Since the piece was published we have raised our concerns that this claim from Iceland’s Executive Chairman Richard Walker is likely inaccurate and has fueled misinformation and HIV stigma.
We are unaware of any cases of HIV having ever been transmitted in this way. Such transmission is almost impossible. The HIV virus is fragile and cannot survive outside a body for a long time.
Having consulted with UK Health Security Agency, we have been told: “This would be a highly unlikely route of transmission because the vast majority of people living with HIV are on treatment and therefore have an undetectable level of virus and no transmission risk. Anyone who has had a needlestick assault or injury is advised to seek medical advice”.
If a case of HIV transmission due to a needle attack were reported to medical professionals, an investigation would have been undertaken by the local public health team. If three such cases occurred in these specific circumstance a major investigation would have been opened. Though we do not know the dates that these incidents are alleged to have occurred, we are not aware of any such investigation.
Media stories like this are extremely stigmatising to people living with HIV, perpetuate damaging narratives and spread incorrect information around HIV and its transmission. We know people have been affected by this article and share the distress it has caused.
When the original piece was published, further media stories ran further amplifying these claims. We are happy that most outlets amended their articles or removed them completely on the day of publication. We approached the MailOnline after the piece was published to ask them to fact check the claims but have heard nothing back and the story has not been amended.
We have been in contact with Iceland to try and work together to clarify the facts. However as we have been unable to progress this, we now feel we cannot wait any longer to publicly challenge what we believe to be misinformation. While we accept that Mr Walker believed this claim to be true when he said it, our understanding of HIV transmission, alongside public health responses to HIV makes us confident that these incidents did not occur.
We would welcome a meeting with Mr Walker to reflect on how HIV has changed and discuss how Iceland can work with us to challenge HIV stigma.