Increasing numbers of people at risk from HIV, which is once again on the rise, is a major concern for Aids West.
The voluntary organisation, which is funded by HSE West, has rolled out some 40 free confidential rapid HIV testing sessions in the city and county, but manager for Aids West Ireland Joe McDonagh says there is still considerable under detection or reporting of HIV.
While the HIV testing campaign is "proving to be a great success" with more than 120 people attending for testing at 40 different sessions, McDonagh says the increase in HIV is of "great concern".
"There is a common misconception HIV numbers are on the decline in Ireland and that HIV is no longer a health issue," he says, "but the numbers of people diagnosed with HIV in Ireland is rising amid concerns that ambivalence about the disease is putting increasing numbers of people at risk."
The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre states that HIV notifications were relatively stable between 2003 and 2014. However in 2014 and 2015, there was a 30 per cent increase in notifications, followed by additional increases of five per cent again in both 2015 and 2016.
"We are working closely with our colleagues in the infectious disease clinic at University Hospital Galway as we are very aware there is considerable under detection/reporting of HIV. There is a much greater need for access to free HIV testing as we look to make testing as accessible as possible for people across Galway city and county. No appointment is necessary – simply turn up and we can do the test.
"We are very grateful to Healthy Galway City, County Galway Healthy Ireland, and to the HSE KnowNow Programme for the funding and support which has allowed us to roll out more than 40 testing sessions. This programme is great because it removes the barriers to HIV testing by bringing the testing direct to communities. Rapid HIV test is remarkable as it gives an HIV result in less than a minute – it is the world’s fastest HIV test."
Testing has been carried out in many locations, including Teach Solais LGBT+ Resource Centre, NUIG, GMIT, Probation Service, direct provision hostels, various family resource centres and Galway Rural Development Offices, but additional requests for repeat testing sessions indicates a "real need" for the service within these communities, he says.
"HIV testing is essential. People need to be aware of their HIV status and the sooner a person knows their status, the sooner they can start treatment. This then leads to much better long term health outcomes," he says.
Early diagnosis is also key, as HIV is often transmitted by people who are unaware they are HIV positive. The World Health Organisation estimates 30 per cent of people living with HIV do not know their status.
AIDS West support service co-ordinator Ger Coy says there is a need to regularly test for HIV if someone is sexually active.
"HIV prevention is an essential part of our work and we encourage everyone to be aware of their HIV status. Once a person is diagnosed it’s important to start treatment immediately so as to decrease the impact of the virus and to reduce the chance of onward transmission of the virus."
Testing continues this week in in Club GASS in Rosin Dubh (Friday March 30 from 6pm to 8pm ).
No appointment is necessary. Contact AIDS West 091 566266 or email [email protected] to find out more or to book an appointment.