Newry.ie

Lockdown could help end HIV transmission in Northern Ireland, it’s been claimed.

Gavin Boyle, from LGBT charity The Rainbow Project, said the Covid-19 shutdown had given a “once in a generation” opportunity to bring the infection rate down to zero.

NI’s time in lockdown has now passed the 12 week lag it can take for HIV to be detected, he said.

Testing now would provide a “population-wide” response to the virus, giving people a “definitive” result on whether they had it, he said.

Mr Boyd said: “One of the big problems with HIV testing is that there’s a lag between someone’s infection and the chance of that being picked up by a test.

“We can now track down every single new infection that has possibly been contracted in the last three to four months and get those people onto a treatment pathway straight away so there’s no risk of the infection going any further.

“If we can just take that out, get everyone tested, get everyone treatment who needs it – that’s getting towards zero transmission.”

But he said stigma could still stand in the way.

In 2018, 84 people were diagnosed in NI – seven fewer than 2017.

Just over half had contracted HIV via gay or bisexual transmission.

Mr Boyd said: “We want the message to get out there, sexual health testing is really accessible, it’s really easy, it’s not scary.

“Treatments are really, really effective. HIV is not the infection that it was 30 years ago, it’s not something to be scared of and once someone is on an effective course of treatment their life expectancy is the same as anyone else.

“As lockdown restrictions are eased and there are more opportunities for social interactions we want everyone to know their HIV status by getting tested and having confidence in their sexual health."

You can order a free home testing kit at SH24.org.uk or come for a physically distant test at the Belfast LGBT Centre by contacting Leo@rainbow-project.org.

By Jessica Black, Local Democracy Reporter

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