A significant number of people incorrectly believe you can contract HIV through kissing or sneezing
There's been a broad welcome to the news that a groundbreaking anti-HIV drug is now available in Ireland.
The announcement that Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) - a medication shown to dramatically reduce the risk of contracting HIV - is to be made available on prescription through Irish community pharmacists was timed to coincide with World AIDS Day.
For months, campaigners have been urging the HSE to bring the drug to Ireland – and the Taoiseach tweeted to announce its availability this afternoon.
However concerns remain that the drug will be too expensive for a lot of people.
It is not available under the medical card or Drug Payment Scheme – and it costs €90 to €100 for a monthly dose.
Andrew Lovett from Aids advocacy group Act Up said the number of diagnoses are increasing - with 451 new cases diagnosed here so far this year.
“We have seen the highest number of new diagnoses in the history of the epidemic in Ireland and looking at preliminary figures from this year, there is no significant decrease this year,” he said.
“We are going to be looking at the same kind of numbers at the end of this year.
Anne Mason from HIV Services Ireland said that while the current treatments are fantastic – it is vital to get tested:
“HIV has not gone away; we are getting new infections in Ireland every week,” she said.
“Really the key message is: get tested.
“Testing is now available throughout the country in community settings; it is available free of charge; you get your results in one minute.”
She said the treatments today are effective and accessible – and there is plenty of support and information available:
“HIV is no longer a death sentence,” she said. “The treatments are fantastic.”
“They completely knock HIV on the head.
“People on treatment will have so little virus in their body in fact that they can’t affect anybody.
“So if you have a partner that is HIV Positive, is on medication with an undetectable viral load - then they are not going to infect you.”
Meanwhile, Mr Lovett warned that there is a need for increased education around the virus – with a significant number of people in Ireland still think you can get HIV through kissing or sneezing.
He was referring to a recent study from HIV Ireland that found that 24% of people incorrectly believe that HIV can be transmitted through kissing, while 11% incorrectly believe it can be transmitted through coughing or sneezing.
“11% of people reported that they thought you could contract HIV through kissing or sneezing,” he said.
“Still; today - this was HIV Ireland’s survey this year.
“So you can see; HIV is really not talked about. It is not taught about in schools.”
PrEP does not protect against other sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy - and it is not a cure for HIV.
However, it is recognised as a powerful HIV preventative tool when combined with condoms and other prevention methods.