On Thursday 13th October, our HIV Testing Drive was held in UL Students’ Union in conjunction with ULSU and GOSHH. It was a massive success and we must thank everybody who came along and got tested!
With 491 people in Ireland newly diagnosed last year, HIV is on the rise in Ireland and awareness is as important as ever. The increase in HIV has led to a new wave of grassroots activism among the LGBTQ+ community, with numerous groups fighting to end the HIV/AIDS crisis. However, the days of HIV being considered the “gay man’s cancer” are over, as while around 50% of new cases are men who have sex with men, the amount of HIV positive heterosexual men and women is growing. Indeed, an important part of Out in UL’s HIV campaign involves addressing common myths and misconceptions surrounding HIV. Contrary to popular belief, one cannot contract HIV from hugging, holding hands with or sharing cutlery with a HIV positive person, and it is possible to have HIV without knowing it, as it can take several months after initial exposure for a test to show positive.
Out in UL spent the week leading up to the testing day working with GOSHH and ULSU’s Welfare Officer, Caolan O’Donnell, to promote this event. Information and facts about HIV appeared on our social media, on campus radio and even on Spin South West, as our campaigns officer, Lorcan O’Donnell, was on air for a few minutes the day before testing, talking about HIV awareness and our testing day. This generated a massive amount of interest among our own members and the wider student body, successfully starting a vital conversation about HIV during SHAG Week.
On Thursday, we set up a pop-up clinic in SU Rooms 2 and 3, and staff from GOSHH arrived on campus to carry out the testing, which ran from 9am-6pm on the day. This consisted of a testing room, where the tests themselves were carried out, and a waiting room, which was staffed by Out in UL committee members and provided information leaflets on HIV, as well as free condoms and dental dams. The clinic was consistently busy throughout the day, a reflection on the incredible response to our HIV testing initiative. We also received more publicity on the day itself, with some of those who were tested speaking to Spin South West about why they thought it was important to be tested for HIV.
Out of all the people who signed up, we tested over half within the SU and the pop up clinic. Due to the overwhelming response we couldn’t test everyone who had signed up plus others who did not sign up in advance and walked into the clinic, and we accordingly referred those who remained untested to the GOSHH centre on Redwood Place in Limerick city centre. At GOSHH’s clinic the testing process is identical to that at the clinic we held on campus. One only needs to have their finger pricked to take a tiny blood sample and it can then be tested for HIV. The Rapid HIV testing process takes no longer than ten minutes; it is quick, easy and completely confidential, making it a very attractive and popular method for people to find out their HIV status. As Rapid HIV pop-up clinics on university campuses in Ireland are relatively uncommon, this testing day provided UL students and staff with a crucial opportunity. To have tested this many people for HIV and opened up a conversation about HIV on UL’s campus is a brilliant testament to the work our committee put into this campaign.