Art installation at Love Monument encourages people to test for HIV

NGO says government support is lacking

The bulk of the campaign consisted of an art installation on 18 May, whereby the Love Monument in St Julian’s was covered with 600 HIV self-testing kit boxes (Photo by Emma Grima)
The bulk of the campaign consisted of an art installation on 18 May, whereby the Love Monument in St Julian’s was covered with 600 HIV self-testing kit boxes (Photo by Emma Grima)

Stakeholders have expressed concern that the stigma surrounding HIV has grown worse in recent years.

Without an updated sexual health policy and lack of guidance or support from the government, NGOs are left to handle most of the burden of supporting those with HIV alone, Checkpoint Malta representative Jackie Roberts told MaltaToday.

To coincide with European Testing Week, Artist Emma Grima collaborated with Checkpoint Malta to create the We Are Positive campaign.

The bulk of the campaign consisted of an art installation set up on 18 May, whereby the Love Monument in St Julian’s was covered with 600 HIV self-testing kit boxes. The intention was to highlight the human element of those living with HIV, the stigma that is still tied to living with the virus, and the importance of regular HIV and sexual health screening.

The O was also covered in a red vinyl sticker to symbolise the red HIV ribbon. Later in the week Sexual Health Malta also handed out condoms and lube, to encourage safe sex.

“We are Positive invites people to walk in the shoes of those living with HIV and who are affected by it, not just medically but also socially. 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,” Grima told MaltaToday.

Malta has one of the highest rates of HIV in Europe; a rate of 15.9 per 100,000 was reported in the 2021 HIV/AIDS surveillance in Europe, published by the European Centre for Disease Prevention and Control (ECDC) and the World Health Organisation Regional Office for Europe. Since 2011, rates of HIV diagnoses have more than doubled locally.

Despite the current situation in Malta regarding HIV, Roberts said that changes have not been made to improve Malta’s local sexual health policy, including free access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and adequate access to HIV testing.

The Labour Party’s 2022 general election manifesto included adding both PrEP and PEP to the national formulary list, but as of 2024, that promise has not yet materialised.

“PEP can cost around €600, which is ridiculous when you think about the fact that it can significantly reduce the risk of an individual getting HIV. I would think it would be in the government’s best interest to try and lessen the burden on the healthcare sector by trying to prevent people being exposed to HIV,” Roberts said.

A growing interest in testing

In the first 24 hours, all 620 boxes had been taken from the installation. “On Saturday at 11am we launched We Are Positive the first action, an artistic installation with the intention of it remaining up for a week. I imagined boxes to go slowly daily. At 10:30 am on Sunday under 24hrs later, I went down eagerly to see how people had been reacting with the installation so far. To my amazement, I stood in front of a completely empty installation with just six remaining boxes lined up on the very top,” Grima said.

“We could not have dreamed of a more overwhelming public response. It just goes to show how spot on Emma’s original idea was: how to engage the general public with HIV on a human level. I think the installation really did appeal to people and sparked their desire to know more about HIV. There has been a massive spike on the Webpage too so people are really engaging with the issue just as we hoped. The success of this public intervention should prompt more people to know their status by getting tested and to take better care of their sexual health. More testing means the reduction of HIV,” Roberts added.

Roberts highlighted the fact that wait times at the Genitourinary (GU) Clinic were less than ideal, with reports that it can take up to six months to get an appointment for a screening. “Of course, if you have HIV, you’re fast-tracked; however, for general screening, the wait list can be excessive.” That is why Checkpoint Malta runs its own testing centre and works closely with the GU Clinic and Sexual Health Malta to help lessen the burden. However, Roberts said more needs to be done from the government’s end.

Stigma remains, lack of clear direction

Roberts insisted that the stigma surrounding persons with HIV in Malta has only gotten worse and that there is limited support from the government for people living with the disease.

Time and time again, the government has promised to revamp its sexual health policy, which has not been touched since 2010. However, it has yet to materialise.

“We’ve heard that it could be open for consultation in September with stakeholders, but who knows? Right now, it seems sexual health as a whole is very low on the government’s list of priorities,” she added.

Where to get tested?

People can book an appointment by emailing [email protected]. They can contact GU Clinic for a test appointment for all STI’s, or ask at their pharmacy for a self-test kit.” People living with HIV who are seeking community can contact community@

WE ARE POSITIVE was developed from several discussions between people living with HIV (PLHIV), allies and activists from Checkpoint Malta, MGRM, HIV Malta, Moviment Graffitti, LGBTI+ Gozo and others, after an approach by Emma Grima seeking collaboration to do ‘something different’ about HIV and sexual health in Malta.