Students encouraged to get tested for HIV as cases in Ireland rise

Nearly 500 cases of HIV recorded in 2015, an increase of 30% on 2014

The USI Operation Zero campaign is calling on students to take five minutes to get tested and ensure “a healthy sex life”. Photograph: IStock

The USI Operation Zero campaign is calling on students to take five minutes to get tested and ensure “a healthy sex life”. Photograph: IStock

 

The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has launched a ‘no shame, no judgment, just support’ campaign to encourage students to get tested for HIV as the latest figures show cases in Ireland have increased by more than a third.

The USI Operation Zero campaign is calling on students to take five minutes to get tested and ensure “a healthy sex life”.

There were a total of 491 new cases of HIV recorded in 2015 according to the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC), marking an increase of 30 per cent on 2014.

Of these, 49.7 per cent were men who had sex with men, 23.8 per cent were heterosexual, 9.2 per cent were among people who inject drugs and 0.8 per cent were mother-to-child transmissions.

More recently, there were 128 cases of HIV recorded in the first three months of this year, compared with 73 in the same period last year, according to recent reports. This is an increase of 75 per cent.

The HSE has also reported an increase in the number of syphilis cases.

Around 10 people are being newly-diagnosed with HIV every week in Ireland, according to HIV Ireland, a national charity set up to battle the spread of the infection.

USI president Kevin Donoghue encouraged students to avail of STI screenings in health clinics across university campuses and from local GPs, adding that people could also visit free rapid HIV testing locations such as Panti Bar in Dublin, GOSHH in Limerick and Chambers nightclub in Cork.

Robbie Lawlor, a student from DCU who is living with HIV and is leading the Operation Zero campaign, emphasised the importance of de-stigmatising HIV.

“As someone living with HIV in Ireland it’s very easy to live in deafening silence,” Robbie Lawlor said.

“HIV is something that nobody should be ashamed of and I am very excited to partner with USI on this campaign and to break down the stigma and encourage students to get tested.”

Niall Mulligan from HIV Ireland voiced concern earlier this year at the “relentless upward trend in HIV diagnoses”.

“According to the World Health Organisation, 30 per cent of people living with HIV are undiagnosed,” Mr Mulligan said.

“It is therefore likely the number of people living with HIV in Ireland is considerably higher than the number of diagnosed cases.”

“We also need to focus on people who face a higher risk due to their circumstances - being homeless, being addicted to drugs, working within the sex industry, being in prison, suffering from poor mental health,” he said.