Ireland may be on the way to have an AIDS memorial after the Taoiseach said he was in favour of the project as it emerged that a vital anti-HIV drug is still not available from the public health service.
A government official told The Times that Leo Varadkar was in support of the idea of a memorial, which was first mooted by Tonie Walsh, an LGBT+ activist. Mr Walsh is due to meet officials in the Department of the Taoiseach to discuss the project.
The conference will support calls from Fintan Warfield, a senator, for a monument to remember those who have died from HIV, before World Aids Day, which takes place tomorrow, December 1.
Earlier in August, members of the LGBT+ community working in the area of HIV/AIDS activism held a public meeting last night to discuss the creation of an Irish AIDS memorial.
Speaking in the Seanad, Mr Warfield said that last year cross-party politicians had agreed “rising HIV transmission rates were unacceptable and our current responses are inadequate”.
The appeal for a memorial comes amid concern that the key anti-HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) medicines, which can significantly decrease the chances of being infected, is still not accessible from the public health service.
Earlier this year, Varadkar announced the HSE is developing plans and guidelines for an access programme for PrEP in Ireland as part of the sexual health strategy which is intended to be in place by early 2019.
For the time being, PrEP is still a very expensive medication, only available in the private sector and it costs around €400 for a month’s supply. While the pharmaceutic industry is making millions of profit from it, not everyone can afford it, and many people are ordering the generic versions online, which can be confiscated by customs.
“While accessible antiretroviral therapy in the form of PrEP looks like it is on its way, we are lagging behind many of our European counterparts, which already provides the medication in the public health services, ”Mr Warfield said. “Testing was noted as a key priority in the sexual health strategy in 2015, but no real further investment in testing has been forthcoming. A high rate of late diagnosis is the result. The Gay Men’s Health Service in Baggot Street, which provides a targeted response, is still operating in a condemned building and with limited resources.”
“I call on the government to engage with activists campaigning for an Irish Aids memorial to serve as a place to grieve, remember the loss and give hope,” Mr Warfield said.
This week, party leaders have volunteered to be tested for HIV to encourage more people to get tested. Micheál Martin, from Fianna Fáil, Mary Lou McDonald, from Sinn Féin, Eamon Ryan, from the Green Party, Brendan Howlin, from the Labour Party, and Róisín Shortall, from the Social Democrats, all took a Rapid HIV test during the launch of HIV Ireland’s ‘Five Asks’ leaflet.
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