HIV testing and PrEP services must be prioritised to avoid a spike in infection rates in the wake of Covid-19, a Fine Gael TD has said.
Deputy Jennifer Carroll MacNeill said that while effective treatment now means that HIV positive people can lead healthy lives, early screening and treatment needs to resume to treat the historically high levels of HIV in Ireland.
The Dún Laoghaire TD said: “I, like many others, recently watched Channel 4’s brilliant new series, It’s A Sin, which depicts the reality of the HIV epidemic in the UK in the 1980’s. It tells a heart-breaking story and, thankfully, HIV today is a very different story to what it was during the height of the epidemic.
“With effective treatment, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives, and can become undetectable so that the virus in their body cannot be transmitted to another person.
“I am calling on the Minister for Health to ensure that effective screening and treatment is readily available to everyone, so that people living with HIV can receive timely support and care.
“PrEP is the key drug in the fight against HIV in Ireland; using PrEP dramatically reduces your chance of contracting the virus, and, in the event of exposure to the virus, timely intervention with PrEP can prevent the virus establishing itself.
“The Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) is an invaluable public health service for many members of the LGBT+ community, but unfortunately it has been closed since the onset of the pandemic. This has meant the suspension of essential PrEP clinical health services.
“While interim measures have been put in place, PrEP services appointments are fully booked with no slots currently available which highlights the current level of service demand.
“I have written to Minister Roderic O’Gorman previously to ask that he work with Minister Donnelly to reopen the GMHS and allow services to safely resume. We need a cross-Departmental response as the issue is both a health and equality matter.
“As Spokesperson for Equality, I have been working with organisations such as the Fine Gael National LGBT+ Committee and BeLongTo, and I know that there’s growing concern that we could face a spike in new HIV infections when regular testing resumes.
“Ireland’s rate of infection of HIV is amongst the worst in Europe; there were almost 500 new infections detected in 2019. With testing grinding to an almost complete halt since the onset of the pandemic, we don’t know what levels of infection to expect in 2021.
“The suspension of HIV testing will inevitably lead to missed diagnoses. The reality of this infection is that when it’s left untreated it is terminal and deadly. The key is early detection and treatment.
“I want to remind people that HIV Ireland offer free home testing kits to anyone who wants them. You are able to read the result yourself within 15 minutes, and if you do receive a positive result, it is important to take urgent action and contact your GP.”