HIV Ireland: Free HIV Self-Test service to improve testing rates and reduce transmission of HIV. 3rd November 2020.

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A free HIV self-testing service is being launched to enable people to test for HIV at home. An initiative of HIV Ireland, the service aims to improve the rates of HIV testing among people at increased vulnerability to acquiring HIV including those who may not have tested before.

The HIV Self-Test kit is easy to use and provides a reliable result in 15 minutes. Kits may be ordered from the HIV Ireland website, and delivered free of charge to any address in the country.

Speaking in advance of the launch, Chairperson of HIV Ireland Mr Bernard Condon said, "The most effective form of prevention for HIV is to know your status. The only way to do that is to take a test. HIV Self-Tests offer a quick and easy HIV testing solution for use in the safety and comfort of your own home."

Outlining the support and aftercare offered by the service Mr Condon continued, "HIV Ireland's support services will operate from 10am to 10pm, Monday to Saturday, to ensure sufficient aftercare is provided. This includes offering support before and after taking a test, referral of any 'reactive' results for a confirmatory test, advice on sexual health and, where necessary, treatment," he added.

Gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men

Developed as a pilot project under HIV Ireland's MPOWER Programme, the service will seek to engage gay and bisexual men and men who have sex with men (gbMSM) who may or may not have taken a HIV test before.

MPOWER Programme Manager Mr Adam Shanley said "Gay and bisexual men are disproportionately affected by HIV in Ireland, and yet many men have never tested for HIV before or can experience barriers in accessing testing. Our aim is to make testing for HIV as simple and accessible as possible – HIV self-testing holds huge potential in that regard."

"We've built a full support structure around the service to ensure that users have access to an MPOWER team member from the moment they order a test through to reading their result," explained Mr Shanley. "If a result is negative we can explore the prevention options available to them so that they can remain negative and for those receiving reactive results, we can link them in for confirmatory testing and treatment so they can remain healthy and prevent passing HIV on to their partners. We want gay and bisexual men to know that testing for HIV is an empowering action to take for their sexual health and we are here to support them with that," he added.

Restrictions on HIV Testing Services due COVID-19

The roll out of the HIV Self-Test service coincides with a decrease in the availability of both clinical and community-based sexual health services due to the impact of COVID-19. A recent decision by the HSE to suspend services at the Dublin based Gay Men's Health Service has significantly reduced the availability of testing for gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men, while other services are closed or operating at reduced capacity.

"The impact of the COVID-19 pandemic means that there is an urgent need to increase rates of testing among vulnerable groups," said Mr Stephen O'Hare, Executive Director of HIV Ireland.

"Ongoing restrictions on testing mean that the true rate of transmission of HIV and other STIs in 2020 is likely unknown, with the potential for a significant unchecked spike in HIV transmission," he added. "Every effort must be made to ensure preventive services continue, including the continuation of clinical and community-based testing, access to PEP (Post-Exposure Prophylaxis) and the continued rollout of the national PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis) programme, currently closed to new entrants as health services focus on the COVID-19 pandemic," said Mr O'Hare.

The project is supported by a donation of HIV Self-Test kits by Mylan and by funding to develop the website from Gilead Sciences. HIV Ireland's MPOWER programme is funded by the HSE's Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme.

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