Ireland's HIV diagnosis rate a 'disgrace' according to consultant and researcher

Ireland's HIV diagnosis rate a 'disgrace' according to consultant and researcher

Dr Paddy Mallon, head of the UCD School of Medicine’s HIV Molecular Research Group, called Ireland’s ongoing high rate of HIV diagnoses ‘a disgrace’.

This week saw the release of the report “Miles to go—closing gaps, breaking barriers, righting injustices” the Global AIDS Update 2018 from UNAIDS. The report noted that the overall annual number of new HIV infections dropped from a high of 3.4 million in 1996 to 1.8m last year.

In Ireland, new HIV diagnoses remain at their highest ever rates, with the Health Protection Surveillance Centres’ latest data revealing there has been no decline on 2017 figures. On average, Ireland sees a new HIV diagnosis every 18 hours, 10 a week, or over 500 a year.

With funding to Dublin’s Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) slashed over the last decade, highly inadequate regional resources, the lack of access to effective HIV prevention tools like PrEP and persistent high levels of stigma, Ireland is in the midst of a HIV crisis.

Non-partisan group ACT UP Dublin and Gay Switchboard Ireland held an event at Dublin’s Outhouse LGBT Community Centre.

Two guest speakers, Dr Pierre-Cédric Crouch and Dr Paddy Mallon spoke about HIV in San Francisco and Ireland.

Paddy Mallon, a consultant in Infectious Diseases at St Vincent's University Hospital and Head of the HIV Molecular Research Group at the UCD School of Medicine has nearly 20 years’ experience in the clinical management of people living with HIV in both Dublin and Sydney.

When showing a graph that demonstrated the rise in Ireland’s new HIV diagnoses from 2003 to 2016, Dr Mallon labelled the growing crisis and lack of effective action by the government in response ‘a disgrace’.

PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) is a safe and highly effective HIV prevention strategy where HIV-negative people take antiretroviral medication before and after sex. The World Health Organization recommends that PrEP be available to anyone at risk for HIV.

In Ireland, PrEP is not currently available through the HSE (the Irish public health system). Doctors can prescribe PrEP, and all of the necessary tests can be obtained from a GP or an STI clinic, but users must pay through the roof for the medication themselves.

Pressure has been mounting on Health Minister Simon Harris to do more to tackle the barriers faced by people trying to access a medication that prevents HIV.

ACT UP Dublin’s branch has worked tirelessly over the last two years to engage with Minister Harris with a view to discussing how to tackle the crisis head on, despite many tweets, letters, emails, calls and even a sit-in at this Dublin offices last week, a date has yet to be secured.