Rory O’Neill (Panti) launches campaign to encourage HIV testing

Ahead of Irish AIDS Day on the 15th of June, Janssen in partnership with the Gay Health Network has launched a campaign to stress the importance of knowing your HIV status. The campaign Know The Score: Get Tested!* aims to encourage gay and bisexual men in Ireland to get tested or to retest for HIV, and to stress the advantage of knowing your HIV status.

New research shows the vast majority (83%) of gay and bisexual men consider their risk of contracting HIV as unlikely or very unlikely1. However, a significant number (70%) of sexually active gay and bisexual men have had unprotected sex, with almost one in ten (9%) saying they always have unprotected anal sex2.

More than one in four (27%) gay or bisexual men who participated in the study have never been tested for HIV3, meanwhile nearly half (45%) of gay or bisexual men, who had taken a test, admit they had not been tested in the last 6 months4. According  to  the  latest  figures  released  from  the  HSE’s  Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC), in 2013 37% of MSM (men who have sex with men) were diagnosed late and as a result carried an increased risk of HIV‐related illness5.

Rory O’Neill, entertainer and gay rights activist, today launched the campaign and a new online locator map on Man2Man.ie, which makes it easy for everyone to find a free HIV or STI testing centre in their local area. He spoke about his own personal experience of HIV saying, “As someone who is HIV positive and leads a healthy life, I would encourage everybody to get tested. Testing is essential to prevent the spread of HIV, it also ensures that people who are HIV positive get the treatment they need early and can go on to lead a productive and normal life.

2013 figures released by the HSPC show that there were 344 newly diagnosed cases of HIV in Ireland6. Since 2010, the annual rate of new HIV diagnoses has been  relatively  stable  in  Ireland,  ranging  from  7.0  to  7.5  per  100,000 population7. Last year, MSM accounted for the highest number of new diagnosis of HIV at 46% or 159 new diagnoses, which has been the case since 20098. Among MSM, there has been nearly a 180% increase in diagnosis rates between 2005 and 20139.

The new Janssen study reveals that ‘not feeling at risk of HIV’ (62%) was cited as one of the main reasons for not getting a HIV test 10. Less than one in five (17%) of those surveyed had looked for information relating to HIV testing11. When asked about the availability of HIV testing information, three in five (62%) of those who had looked for information felt that information on HIV testing was available but you had to look for it12.

In partnership with the Gay Health Network Man2Man.ie programme and Dublin AIDS Alliance, Janssen has created a new online locator map which shows exactly where you can get a free HIV or STI test in Ireland. The map includes the addresses, contact details, opening hours and appointment types for each centre. The map and information can be viewed on www.Man2Man.ie and also on www.dublinaidsalliance.ie.

Supporting the campaign, Jerry Buttimer TD, Chairman of the Joint Oireachtas Committee on Health & Children said, “I welcome the new online locator map which has been launched on Man2Man.ie as well as www.dublinaidsalliance.ieAccessing information about free tests has never been simpler or more efficient.

As a society, we cannot afford to let an increase in incidence rates of HIV diagnoses to continue. HIV is a preventable disease and the most effective way to reduce HIV in Ireland is for anyone who is sexually active to get tested.”

Mick Quinlan, Manager, Gay Men’s Health Service HSE and Joint co-ordinator of the Gay Health Network and HSE  man2man.ie programme commented, “Testing is an important part of any sexual health programme for MSM. Apart from carrying and using condoms, gay and bisexual men should consider testing for HIV to ‘Know the Score’ at the GMHS STI Checkpoint at Baggot St Hospital or by visiting our online locator to find their nearest free HIV or STI testing centre. Importantly, men who haven’t tested in a long time, and men who never tested, might not be aware of the benefits of an early diagnosis of HIV. We will be discussing this further at the 12th Annual Gay Health Forum in Dublin Castle next Friday 6th June.

HIV is an issue that affects people irrespective of sexual orientation. In 2013, 38% newly diagnosed cases were infected via heterosexual sex. This was a decrease of 1% from 201213.

Dr Shay Keating, Associate Specialist in Genitourinary Medicine, outlines what is involved in taking the test: “Taking a HIV test is a simple procedure. A doctor (or nurse) will take your sexual history, and the test takes a couple of minutes to perform.  An advisor will talk you through the test, which is not painful, and results will take between 1 and 4 weeks.

The results from our research show that 43% more men would be inclined to take the test if it were free14. There are currently 32 free test centres on the island of Ireland and we hope that this will encourage more people to take control of their HIV status and take the test.

Dr  Leisha  Daly,  Country  Director,  Janssen  Ireland  commented:  “We  are delighted to launch Know The Score: Get Tested! in partnership with the Gay Health Network ahead of Irish AIDS Day on June 15th. Our goal is to highlight the importance of HIV testing in the community, and to find new ways to make it easier for everyone to access information on free HIV testing. Early diagnosis and treatment improves treatment outcomes and dramatically reduces the rate of onward transmission of HIV. Our research shows that there are still many barriers  to  getting  tested,  and  Janssen  Ireland  is  committed  to  working alongside healthcare professionals and healthcare organisations to address these barriers.