THE increase in new HIV diagnoses in Ireland is a cause for concern, according to the Cork Sexual Health Centre.
Centre manager Catherine Kennedy called for more conversations and greater education on the topic to encourage greater uptake in HIV testing.
There were 531 new HIV diagnoses in 2018, the highest number for a year on record.
Ireland’s rate of new HIV diagnoses is now almost double the European average per head of population.
“Any increase is an area of concern when it comes to sexual health,” said Ms Kennedy.
“We would like to see a decline rather than an increase,” she added.
Education on the topic is paramount, Ms Kennedy explained.
“More and more young people we’re meeting are completely unaware of HIV,” she said.
“It’s completely gone backwards instead of forwards.
“It’s also important for people to have a chat about testing, to normalise it. The more we talk about it, the more it becomes normalised and encouraged, and we’ll see more people coming for testing.”
Ms Kennedy encouraged people to get tested to ensure the disease does not spread further.
More than 800 tests were carried out at the CSHC in 2018.
“We have free rapid testing here in the centre and also in outreach facilities,” said Ms Kennedy. Not everyone knows their status and it’s important that they do.
“The medicine for HIV has advanced so much now that when a person does know they have it, they can prevent further spread,” she added.
“People who know their diagnosis and start their treatment early can ensure they live a longer, healthier life and they don’t have to worry about further spread.
“The diagnosis will stop with them.” Ms Kennedy explained the HIV test is a simple finger prick, much like the test for diabetes.
“We can provide a reactive or negative result within 60 seconds,” she said.
If a reactive result is returned, the centre will refer the person to the HIV clinic at a Cork hospital.
The centre also provides free counselling and support to those diagnosed.