New initiative could see pubs in Dublin offering HIV tests
Pub-goers in Dublin will soon be able to take a 30-second HIV test when they call in for a drink under a plan to stem a massive surge in the deadly disease.
Health chiefs have granted funding for the one-year pilot service which could also see free, fast-acting tests made available in colleges, workplaces and other hubs.
T he Gay and Lesbian Equality Network (Glen), which will run the 150,000 euro programme, is currently looking for suitable venues around the capital to host the makeshift clinics.
Tiernan Brady, the organisation's director of HIV strategy, said technology means testing can now be carried out virtually anywhere.
"No-one in the world looks forward to getting an HIV test, so we have to design services that understand that, that are accessible, free and as un intimidating as possible," he said.
"Research shows people want testing that is non-clinical, provided by the community and where results are rapid - so they don't have to wait for instant peace of mind or instant referrals."
The organisation is targeting gay and bisexual-friendly pubs in Dublin where it could run regular testing carried out by trained professionals and volunteers.
Tests involve a small pin-prick being made in a patient to draw a blood sample. This is added to a thimble-sized solution that can provide results within 15 to 30 seconds.
In the event that someone tests positive, they will be referred as quickly as possible into the medical system.
"We want to de-stigmatise testing, we need de-stigmatise HIV," said Mr Brady.
"It is a manageable condition now and the earlier it is detected, the better the health outcome for that person."
HIV rates in Ireland have trebled from 2005, with 314 people diagnosed with the disease in 2013.
The rise in recorded cases is attributed to greater availability of testing, but also a younger generation of gay men who are oblivious to the hugely effective AIDS campaigns of the 1980s.
Most cases are passed on by someone who doesn't know they are infected.
"The more people who test, the better for them and also the better for lowering onward transmission rates," said Mr Brady.
Rapid testing services are also to be expanded in Cork and Limerick.
The move was announced by Health Minister Leo Varadkar as he launched Ireland's first National Sexual Health Strategy and Action Plan.
The blueprint was drawn up after wider recent figures showed an almost 300% jump in reported sexually transmitted infections between 1995 and 2013.
The Healthy Ireland Survey also found nearly one in five (17%) people having sex outside a steady relationship do not use contraception, while more than half (54%) of gay men do not use a condom.
"The recent increase in sexually transmitted infections (STIs) means this is a good time to publish the strategy, and we particularly want to target at-risk groups," said Mr Varadkar.
"In the past, sex and sexual health were taboo subjects. Sex is a normal part of life and is essential to our survival as a species.
"Ultimately, good sexual health is down to personal responsibility, but the Government can help by educating people to make better decisions about their sexual health, understand the personal and social cost of having an STI and by improving access to affordable testing and treatment."
Under the plan, Dr Fiona Lyons has been charged with responsibility for the country's sexual health, in her new role as National Clinical Lead for Sexual Health Services.
Other measure include targeting schools and children with lessons on the risk of unprotected sex and the importance of early testing and treatment.
Consideration is also being given to setting up a national STI laboratory, and extending the HPV vaccine to adolescent boys and other people at-risk from the highly contagious and potentially cancer-causing infection.
"This strategy gives us the opportunity to work together and build further on the great work already in progress towards realising the vision that everyone in Ireland experiences positive sexual health and wellbeing," said Dr Lyons.