Gay Health Network survey shows nearly 40% of men have never been tested for HIV or STIs

Young men and those living outside Dublin are among those least likely to have had a HIV test

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File photo. Image: Damian Dovarganes / AP/Press Association Images

Almost four out of ten men in Ireland who have had sex with other men have never been tested for HIV or STIs, a new survey has found.

The largest ever survey of men who have sex with men (MSM) was carried out by the HSE and Gay Health Network, with 3,090 men included in the analysis.

79% of the men surveyed described themselves as gay, 13% as bisexual, 2% as straight or heterosexual, and 5% as 'other'.

The survey found that 61% had sex with one or more non-steady partner in the last year, while 40% of those respondents had unprotected anal intercourse.

The results show that those least likely to have had a HIV test were 'young, living outside Dublin, did not identify as gay, were out to few or no one or had low levels of education'.

8% of the respondents who had been tested for HIV said they were HIV positive, while 21% who had an STI test in the last year were newly diagnosed with an STI.

The HSE says there were 244 diagnoses of HIV among men who have sex with men in 2015 - an increase of 33% compared with 2014.

Dr Derval Igoe, Specialist in Public Health Medicine at the Health Protection Surveillance Centre, said:  “It is vital that we gather information about sexual behaviour, knowledge, attitudes and needs among MSM in order to address increasing rates of HIV and STI transmission.  As we know, there has been a significant increase in the number of new HIV and STI diagnosis in 2015 and 2016 to date. 

"From the survey we now know that young MSM in particular have less knowledge about HIV and STIs, lack confidence in accessing testing and are less likely to have been tested for HIV.  They also report a lack of access to condoms and HIV PEP and are more likely to binge drink and use recreational drugs. 

Dr Igoe added that the information will help inform the response "to the sexual health needs of MSM”. 

The results also found that around two-thirds of respondents were out to all or more than half of the people who knew them - while 9% were out to no one.