Health Minister Leo Varadkar, said rapid HIV testing would be offered in colleges, workplaces and in public places.
Funding of €150,000 has been provided to launch Dublin’s first free rapid HIV testing service and to support similar services in Cork and Limerick. People attending pubs will be offered a 30-second HIV test on a night out under the plan to curb the surge of the disease.
New HIV diagnoses have been increasing in Ireland — provisional figures show there were 388 new diagnoses this year — a rise of 65 over the previous year.
The Gay and Lesbian Equality Network will run a one-year pilot in Dublin offering a mix of on-site testing in workplaces, bars and other settings as well as a new testing centre. The funding will support similar services already operated by the Cork Sexual Health Centre and the Gender Orientation Sexual Health HIV in Limerick.
The network’s policy director Tiernan Brady, said technology meant testing could now be carried out almost anywhere, and said it planned to provide HIV testing in gay and bisexual-friendly pubs in Dublin.
The rapid HIV testing which involves a small blood sample is part of a six-year national sexual strategy.
Mr Varadkar said the strategy is being launched because of the significant increase in sexually transmitted diseases in recent years.
Between 1995 and 2013 sexually transmitted illnesses increased from 3,361 to 12,753, with the greatest increase among those under 25 years and among men who have sex with men.
Mr Varadkar said the strategy has not been costed. “It will be funded obviously within the context of the existing budgets,” he said. He said HIV was a particular concern because the age at which it was being diagnosed was falling — it was becoming a young person’s disease.
“What has happened is that people are less afraid of it than they were in the past. It is now effectively a chronic disease,” said Mr Varadkar. Because there was not the same level of fear about the disease as there was in the past, the incidence of the disease was increasing again and that should be of enormous concern to everybody.
Mr Varadkar said free HIV testing was provided at about 20 locations but they want to increase testing and to give more people the opportunity to be tested.
The Crisis Pregnancy Programme is being combined into a new Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme.
Mr Varadkar said a new national clinical leader for sexual health services, Dr Fiona Lyons, would drive the strategy forward.
He said that there was a two-year action plan outlining exactly what was going to be achieved.
HIV Ireland, said it was the first time HIV had been integrated into a broader sexual health context but warned against complacency.
Executive director of HIV Ireland, Niall Mulligan said HIV-related stigma and discrimination remain a significant issue for people when it came to accessing testing, disclosing their HIV status and onward transmission.
“We must continually remind ourselves as new HIV diagnoses increase in Ireland approximately 30% of people who are living with HIV in Ireland don’t actually know they are,” he said.
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