Leo Varadkar has released a video where he takes a Rapid HIV test in order to encourage people to get tested regularly.
Speaking to GCN, Varadkar said that the lack of education around HIV for younger generations concerns him.
“I’m a bit concerned that younger guys, in particular, don’t know an awful lot about HIV we were all around in the 1980s, we were all scarified by some of the public information and public health campaigns at the time which to a certain extent may have stigmatised HIV a little bit but also made people really aware of it.”
In April 2016, 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, its aim is to increase HIV testing by making rapid testing available to men who have sex with men (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.
Destigmatising HIV Testing
“I really want to encourage people not to be afraid to get tested for a start to be aware that testing is available in a lot of GP surgeries, in free clinics around the country.
“Generally HIV is passed on by people who don’t know their status, with a very small number of exceptional cases, nobody actually wants to infect anyone else with HIV. Very often young people who get HIV don’t find out for a couple of months or a couple of years and in that interregnum, end up infecting a lot of other people.
“So I really want to encourage people to get tested regularly and bear in mind if you are tested and turns out that you’re positive you can get the treatment you need.”
Varadkar also acknowledged UequalsU (undetectable=untransmissable), which means that people living with HIV on effective treatment can’t pass on HIV to a sexual partner.
“Treatment is very effective now, people don’t die of HIV, they live with HIV. If you’re on treatment and you’re taking your treatment you can get your viral load down to zero or close to zero and that means you can’t pass it on so you’re not going to affect anyone else; your partners or partner and you’re not going to affect your baby if your pregnant.
“From a Government point of view, we have a sexual health strategy which we are implementing. What we are going to be doing as part of that strategy is making testing more available, increasing resources for education and awareness and also counselling.
“Subject to approval from HIQA, which is the regulatory body that does a lot of work on these things, we’ll commence Ireland’s first PrEP programme next year.”
An End To The Worldwide HIV And AIDS Epidemic
UNAIDS is leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030 as part of the Sustainable Development Goals. They have set a treatment target of 90-90-90 to help end the AIDS epidemic.
“By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status. By 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy. By 2020, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression.”
Ireland has surpassed the 90% figure in terms of viral suppression. When it comes to people diagnosed with HIV, Ireland has reached 87% and of those, 83% are on treatment.
Manager of KnowNow, Adam Shanley said that removing the stigma from testing is important for us to achieve these targets.
“It’s estimated that nearly 1,000 people in Ireland are unaware that they are living with HIV. For us to achieve the first 90 (90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status) we need to destigmatise and normalise HIV testing.
“Strengthening peer-led community HIV testing like KnowNow and targeting new initiatives to other populations vulnerable to HIV is key in reaching that target. HIV self-testing also presents a good opportunity to close out the undiagnosed numbers.
“Having solid referral pathways for those diagnosed in these ways is imperative in achieving the second 90 (90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy), ensuring everyone diagnosed is properly engaged and retained in care. With the right resources and support, we can join other countries as global leaders.”
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