The Journal.ie: Irish dentists refusing to treat HIV positive patients 'adds to stigma'
The “worrying” levels of HIV diagnoses have been discussed at the Oireachtas Health Committee. There are set to be more cases of HIV in Ireland in 2015 than in any other year.
HIV DIAGNOSES IN Ireland are increasing with 25% more cases of the virus discovered in Ireland so far this year compared with 2014.
The levels of HIV diagnosis here were discussed yesterday at the Oireachtas Health Committee at Leinster House.
Currently there are 3,500 people living with HIV in Ireland, executive director with HIV Ireland Niall Mulligan told the committee.
In 2014, 342 new cases of HIV were diagnosed here while in 2013 the figure stood at 377.
Provisional figures up to November for 2015 show that 427 new cases of HIV have come to light, an increase of 85 on last year with one month of the year to go.
203 people were diagnosed in the first half of this year, a rate of more than one person per day.
“Currently 30% of people who have HIV are unaware that they have it,” said Mulligan, citing a World Health Organisation (WHO) figure.
“There is a lack of access to testing and a lack of awareness regarding the disease.”
Of the new diagnoses in Ireland this year, 85 were men who had had sex with men, 38 came from heterosexual encounters, and one was a child who had the virus passed onto them by their mother.
Mulligan expanded in his remarks to the committee on the stigma that is associated with HIV. Indeed stigma was a word repeatedly used by all three people appearing at the meeting.
By way of example, he cited cases in which HIV Ireland have dealt with people experiencing discrimination:
A man who had landed a job on a cruise ship was let go two days later when his positive HIV status became known
HIV Ireland had to convince a creche manager that he didn’t need to inform all of his clients of the fact that one child in his care was HIV positive
Some dentists in Dublin have either been referring HIV positive patients to community dental schemes, or else scheduling them as their last appointment of the day to “reduce the risk of cross-contamination”
“The negative aspects to a disclosure of being HIV positive are very real. People do not recognise the chaos that such a diagnosis can cause to a person’s career, their college life. At present there are 50 countries around the world that a person with a HIV positive diagnosis cannot travel to,” said Mulligan.
We work to help people navigate the disclosure. It can be quite a complex problem, both from society and as a form of self-stigma.
As regards the increase in rates of diagnosis, Deirdre Seery of the Cork Sexual Health Centre said that there is no concrete data as to why levels are increasing.
“Testing is greatly increasing which may go some way to explaining the figures,” she said.
It is possible that with treatment improving all the time, the lack of visibility of HIV and AIDS has made us complacent. There has undeniably been an increase in risky sexual behaviours.
“Our greatest challenge is to increase testing,” said Seery.
We also need targeted prevention. For most of this country it is ok to be gay. But for many that is still not the case. Many men who have sex with men do not acknowledge being gay.
These hidden populations are very difficult to engage with. By their very nature they’re hidden.
Sex education is effective. And by that I mean sex education, not just reproductivity.
The overall picture is “not good”, said Tiernan Brady, policy director with Ireland’s Gay and Lesbian Network (GLEN).
“Since 2005 we’ve seen a 200% increase in the number of HIV diagnoses,” he said.
This year will see the highest number of diagnoses on record.
Brady also bemoaned the fact that the average age of those who are diagnosed has dropped from 37 in 2005 to 31 today.
“More than anything else we need to make clear the importance of someone knowing what their status is,” he said.
The sooner someone knows the sooner they can begin treatment and the better their long-term health prognosis is.
Brady and Seery nevertheless say there is a lot to be positive about.
2016 will see the pilot of an outreach programme that will see one-minute free testing introduced, thus removing the stigma of attending a medical facility. This type of testing has already been introduced in Limerick and Cork.
Seery also spoke glowingly of the success of Pre Exposure Prophylaxis (PREP), a pill for preventing HIV negative people who are exposed to the virus from contracting it.
“What’s important now is to figure out who the people are who need this drug most, and to make sure that they get it,” she said.