Scheme to offer HIV tests in cafes, bars and offices
People will soon be able to have a HIV test along with their cappuccino. Moves are under way to extend screening for the sexually transmitted disease to cafés, bars and even the workplace.
The pilot project is getting €150,000 in funding. It aims to make it more convenient for at-risk groups in particular to be tested for HIV, with results available in around 20 minutes.
The move is part of the first National Sexual Health Strategy, which has been launched to stem the alarming rise in a range of sexually transmitted diseases through greater awareness, education and better access to testing.
Health Minister Leo Varadkar said: "The increase in sexually transmitted infections has raised concern among health professionals. Chlamydia has risen from 6.6 per 100,000 in 1995 to 136.5 in 2013."
There is also an increase in gonorrhoea and recent data shows HIV infection is on the rise again among younger gay men. Overall, the number of sexually transmitted disease notifications has risen from 3,361 in 1995 to 12,753 in 2013 - a rise of 279pc.
This is partly due to more testing but is also being linked to behaviour.
The most recent findings from Healthy Ireland, which provides a snapshot survey of lifestyle behaviours, revealed that 17pc of people who had sex with someone other than their partner did not use any form of contraception.
Doctors have also anecdotally noted the prevalence of these infections in middle-aged people who are separated or divorced and are not taking safety precautions as they move on to new and sometimes transient relationships later in life.
The rapid HIV testing pilot, which will be examined for quality control, will be run by the organisation Glen in Dublin and other support groups in Cork and Limerick. The test can be carried out without the need for a laboratory.
The minister said that it was hoped to bring down rates of sexually transmitted infection in the medium term. However, he noted that if more people are tested, the rates will rise.
"People who don't know they have a sexually transmitted infection are more likely to pass it on to others," he added.
The minister has appointed Dr Fiona Lyons, who has worked at the sexually transmitted disease clinic in St James's Hospital, to drive the strategy.
Dr Lyons said yesterday that there was a reluctance among many people to attend these clinics and some at-risk groups are losing out as a result of stigma and fear.
Greater education and awareness of prevention through proper sexual behaviour will also be incorporated into the Relationships and Sexual Education programme in both primary and post-primary schools, which teaches young people life skills.
The strategy acknowledges that not all parents feel competent to provide good-quality sex education to their children.
The Department of Health is also to consider extending the HPV vaccine - which prevents sexually transmitted diseases which can lead to cervical cancer and is currently only available to girls - to adolescent boys.
Asked about funding, the minister said that the strategy had not been costed but would be supported from the health budget allocation for 2016.