KnowNow Rapid HIV Testing Manager Adam Shanley wonders whether a one-size-fits-all approach to HIV testing works
Getting tested for HIV with instant results in settings like Pantibar, The Boilerhouse and The George is part of the way our community can tackle the rise of HIV in Ireland.
The rate of HIV diagnoses in Ireland last year was the highest ever recorded and almost twice the average of other EU states. Over half of all diagnoses are in men who have sex with men (MSM). More than a third of us have never tested for HIV and nearly two thirds haven’t in over a year.
When we read these statistics it can be understandable to feel anxiety and worry. It’s difficult not to when the story of HIV has been written by stigma and terror for the past 30 years.
However, each one of us has an opportunity to rewrite that story with one of understanding, confidence and compassion.
A Collaborative Story
The story of HIV is a collaborative one. We sometimes think that its only about the narrative of those living with HIV but every one of us contributes to this overall story in the way we talk about HIV and our actions around HIV.
We have a responsibility as community members to collaborate with each other about our sexual health so we can change the story of HIV, and I think that we can start that by getting tested.
For some people getting tested for HIV is as simple as picking an evening you’ve nothing planned, heading down to the clinic, answering a few questions about your sex life, leaving with a plaster on your arm and checking your phone in a week for a result.
For others, the thoughts of crossing the threshold of a clinic, talking about sex to a doctor or waiting that long for a result is something they’d never consider or perhaps feel they don’t need.
However, at a time where the incidence of HIV among men who have sex with men in Ireland is increasing, is a one-size-fits- all approach to HIV testing a standard we can continue to keep?
In April of this year, GLEN in partnership with Sexual Health Centre, Cork and GOSHH in Limerick, launched the KnowNow project.
A pilot initiative as part of Ireland’s first Sexual Health Strategy, it aims to increase HIV testing by making rapid testing available to MSM in community settings. Pantibar, The George, Outhouse and Boilerhouse are the venues for testing in Dublin, which takes place at various times throughout the week and weekend.
The finger prick test is performed by trained volunteers, it takes 60 seconds to develop a result and is just as accurate as lab-based testing.
Keep reading to see what Adam Shanley feels is one of the most integral elements of this project and see when and where rapid HIV testing is available across Ireland.
Adam Shanley is a KnowNow Rapid HIV Testing Manager.
One of the most integral elements of the project in Dublin is that it is peer-led and community based. This is a powerful tool in breaking down the barriers people perceive when thinking about testing for HIV.
Having trained gay and bisexual volunteers providing the test makes the process of testing less confronting and more supportive.
A large proportion of men who have used the service have never tested for HIV before – proving that choice is hugely important as a motivation for testing.
Men have the choice of testing in a venue that they feel comfortable going to and have the choice to start a conversation about navigating our sex lives as best we can. It’s our opportunity to work collaboratively and to change the story of HIV.
When the service launched it was met with concerns from some in the community. Should we be so blasé about HIV and be having a test for it alongside our pint?
Firstly, confidentiality and privacy are held in the highest regard – each venue is chosen on the basis that a private area can be used exclusively by the testers for the duration of the session – you won’t be receiving a result at the bar as the track changes from Madonna to Kylie.
More importantly, it’s fear and stigma about HIV which is partly to blame for people not testing and, if they have the virus, unknowingly passing that on to their partners.
So no, we shouldn’t be blasé about having HIV, a chronic manageable illness for the rest of our lives, but feeding into a notion that it should be feared only discourages us from knowing our status. HIV is now manageable.
However, it seems that attitudes have not moved on as much as the treatment, with people still finding themselves afraid, ashamed and worried that their lives will never be the same again if they test and find out they are positive.
By being open and collaborative and taking hold of the situation ourselves we can change the story of HIV in our community. Whether it’s in the clinic, the sauna or the bar – be brave, get tested and talk about it.
We have a responsibility to care for each other as well as for ourselves because, regardless of status, we are a community.
Rapid HIV testing is available at the following dates and times in December.
Adam Shanley is a KnowNow Rapid HIV Testing Manager.
If you need additional support, check out the following resources:
T: 1890 929 539 | W: www.lgbt.ie
T: +353 (0)1 873 3799 | W: www.hivireland.ie
TENI Helpline (Transgender Support)
T: 085 147 7166 | W: www.teni.ie
T: 01-872 1055 | W: www.gayswitchbaord.ie
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