On Thursday, December 7, Taoiseach Leo Varadkar officially launched a new mobile HIV and STI screening service, known as ‘Equal: Check and Chat’, for Leinster residents.
The mobile service will provide locals in the greater Dublin area with access to rapid HIV testing as well as other STI screening services. Surrounding counties throughout the province will also be able to benefit from the new service.
In addition to serving as a clinic using hospital-grade testing materials, the mobile service similarly features a dedicated waiting area.
The van will be operated by a full-time project coordinator as well as a part-time outreach worker who will work directly with local Leinster communities to provide HIV and STI screenings throughout the province. Healthcare professionals from Dublin County hospitals, such as the Mater Hospital’s STI clinic, will similarly provide the mobile service with medical support and oversight, including referral services for patients in need of further care.
‘Equal: Check and Chat’ comes as a joint initiative from charitable organisations HIV Ireland and AIDS Care Education and Training (ACET) and has been funded by a major “Zeroing in” community grant award from Gilead Sciences. Additional funding for the project has been provided by pharma company GSK-ViiV and Certified Proud, a network of companies supporting LGBTQ+ equality in Ireland.
Bernard Condon, Chairperson of HIV Ireland, invited Varadkar to cut the ribbon at the launch event on the grounds of Dublin Castle, saying: “As a signatory to the Paris Declaration on Fast-Track Cities, the Government has committed to ending new HIV transmissions in major urban areas by the end of the decade. By expanding the availability of testing services to connect directly with communities, this initiative further enhances Ireland’s overall prospect of achieving those aims.”
Also speaking at the ceremony, Dr Julian Cole, the Country Medical Director at Gilead Sciences UK and Ireland, said: “Gilead’s vision is to end the HIV epidemic, but we can only do that if the whole of society works together. Gilead has been recently named as the number one philanthropic funder of HIV-related programmes globally and we are proud to support the Equal: Check and Chat mobile screening service.
“Together with HIV Ireland and ACET, we hope this project establishes best practice in engaging underserved communities and makes a meaningful contribution to Ireland’s goal of ending HIV transmissions by 2030.”
ACET Chief Executive Richard Carson said that he hopes ‘Equal: Check and Chat’ will prove helpful to traditionally underserved Black and migrant communities.
“The van has been designed to facilitate friendly, efficient testing options, free at the point of use to multiple communities. The project broadens the reach of HIV Ireland and ACET into community settings around Leinster where sections of our community experience barriers to accessing face-to-face screening services.
“Having the van pull up at a local community centre to offer out-of-hours, accessible and culturally appropriate screening services, provided in a friendly non-judgmental way, can only improve rates of testing for HIV and STIs among communities which continue to face a range of systemic and structural barriers in accessing health services,” said Carson.
The project is timely as Ireland has seen an upward trajectory in the number of newly notified HIV cases in recent years. In 2022, data from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) indicates that post-pandemic, newly notified cases have risen to more than 850 per year.
Really pleased to join @HIVIreland @ACETIreland & @GileadSciences to launch ‘Equal: Check +Chat’, a new mobile HIV and STI screening service for Leinster.
It will provide rapid HIV and STI screening services at community locations in Dublin and surrounding counties. pic.twitter.com/hxHeLuN1Df
— Leo Varadkar (@LeoVaradkar) December 8, 2023
News of the mobile service comes just days after the Taoiseach was invited to attend a ribbon-cutting ceremony for Ireland’s first national HIV/AIDS monument in Phoenix Park. The monument, entitled ‘Embraced Loop’, was designed by artists Anaisa France and Michael R. DiCarlo to pay tribute to those who have died while also showing solidarity with people living with and affected by HIV today.
At the unveiling of the monument, Varadkar also announced that the Irish government would be donating €750,000 to the global fund to fight AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria.
“The great advances in prevention, treatment and care we have seen for HIV/AIDS over the last 20 years have helped to save millions of lives,” Varadkar stated.
“In spite of this incredible progress, we can never forget the devastating effect that HIV and AIDS has had on people, families, communities and entire nations.
“This deeply moving memorial, Embraced Loop, will be situated here permanently in the People’s Gardens to show the respect of our nation, that we share in the sorrow of those lost or suffering, and to remember and celebrate the lives of those we have lost.
“It also reminds us that we still need to act, and the struggle is not over,” he added.
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