Davy Quinlivan from MPOWER praises community spirit for help in providing vital sexual health service

MPOWER have launched Ireland's first free HIV self-test service and will continue to support the community throughout any COVID-based restrictions.

A split screen image of a smiling man in front of a rainbow flag and four men in rainbow face masks
Image: Babs Daly

As part of a new series, we highlight the people behind the MPOWER programme at HIV Ireland. Davy Quinlivan shares the many ways in which the service is here to help the community. 

From community based testing to peer-led support, the MPOWER team provide an essential service to gay and bisexual men and other MSM in Ireland. Their main aim is to empower queer men with sex-positive and judgement-free based services and resources.

For many in the community, Davy Quinlivan of MPOWER may be a familiar face. His main responsibility is coordinating the rapid HIV testing. Previously, these tests were offered in a variety of queer venues, but the COVID pandemic has brought some of those services to a halt.

“When restrictions began to lift back in June, none of [the] community venues were open,” Davy shares. “Thankfully, we were able to run this vital service again in our own offices with full COVID compliance.” The team now runs their own testing sessions on Wednesday evenings and on Saturday afternoons every week. You can visit their website for more information.

MPOWER have also launched the country’s first free HIV self-test service and their team members will be available to service users by phone, email, Whatsapp and Zoom from the moment they order a test through to reading their result.

For Davy, the virus has naturally proven to be the biggest unexpected challenge. As such, the team have had to make a few adjustments to the services to ensure that they still fall in line with current government guidelines, as well as keeping all of their volunteers safe. For example, having to create an appointment system to control the amount of people in the building at one time, when typically they would offer a walk-in service and provide certain venues with free condoms and lubes.

“Thankfully, HIV Ireland have continued to provide a walk-in condom service, so if you are in the area just knock in! Condoms and lube are also available to take during the rapid testing sessions, you can pop in and collect without booking a test.”

Davy explained how the pandemic has been particularly difficult on the community. Even under normal circumstances, queer spaces are few and far between, so in many cases, the pandemic has shut down what little services there are out there. As such, the work of the MPOWER team is more important now than ever.

“With almost all community spaces and places closed, or largely restricted, it has left many members of the community at sea with a lack of connection to their community and peers,” he explained. “We might be the only other members of the LGBTQ+ community some people have a chance to speak to in a week. Something as simple as that connection can be a lifeline for people, outside of any sexual health needs.”

A smiling man sitting at a desk in front of a rainbow flag

Although good news may seem few and far between in these times, Davy was quick to point out that all of this outreach work wouldn’t be possible without the determined efforts of the MPOWER volunteers. Even now, while the country adapts to restrictions, many are still sacrificing their time to help others.

“It is a testament to the spirit and heart of the community, and the volunteers themselves, that we continue to be able to provide this vital service twice a week,” he elaborated. “Anyone willing to sit through multiple Zooms outside of their usual schedule by choice is a hero to me!”

Davy Quinlivan closed by further praising the volunteers: “Seriously though, their dedication and perseverance have allowed us to continue to provide critical HIV testing when so many other services are unable to. There has been huge demand since the service resumed, which attests to the importance of community-specific healthcare.”

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