'At the time, my HIV diagnosis was essentially a death sentence. These days, it's a very different story,' says Rory O'Neill
Entertainer Rory O'Neill has asked gay and bisexual men to get checked in order to know their HIV status, while opening up about his HIV positive diagnosis in 1995.
Speaking after the launch of the Janssen and Gay Health Network Know the Score: Get Tested campaign, Mr O'Neill, known for his drag alter ego Panti, said when he was diagnosed it was essentially a death sentence.
"It was quite a long time ago now and at the time, of course, it was a very different story. It was essentially a death sentence and it took some getting used to. I was very lucky, because within a year or two all of the new drug treatments that are now so available were beginning to come on stream," he said.
"Treatments improved very quickly over the years since I've been diagnosed. It's a whole other landscape now. That's why it's important to get tested and know you're status, because the sooner you know your status, the sooner you can be treated."
Mr O'Neill said it was a very difficult thing to talk about at the time because of its reputation, but that it has become somewhat easier.
"It's still an awkward conversation often to have with people, because there's still a lot of ignorance and fear around HIV. When people have all the facts, there's no need to be freaked out."
The PantiBar owner added that a lot of the advertisements that advised young people to get tested have faded away, so many people, especially young people, thing it does not affect them.
"Of course young people always feel invincible and that these things won't affect them, so that is definitely an issue."
Mr O'Neill was attending the launch of an online locater to find the closest centre where people can check their status around Ireland for free. This map can be found on man2man.ie or dublinaidsalliance.ie.
There were 344 newly diagnosed cases of HIV in Ireland in 2013, according to figures from the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HSPC).
"From our own research, we know that about 40% of men are not tested for HIV, but they're living outside the main urban areas. This is why the map locater is good," said Gay Men's Health Service HSE Manager Mick Quinlan.