Outspoken | 

Panti Bliss star Rory O’Neill says some people living with HIV have ‘never told a single soul’

Around 7,500 people are estimated to be living with HIV in Ireland.

Rory O’Neill aka Panti Bliss

Seoirse MulgrewIndependent.ie

Irish gay icon Rory O’Neill has said there is still a stigma attached to HIV as people still believe it is the “life-ending condition” it was once thought to be.

The 54-year-old, is best known for his drag persona, Panti Bliss, said it is now an "easily manageable condition.” He was diagnosed with HIV at the age of 27.

HIV – human immunodeficiency virus – attacks the immune system by infecting a type of white blood cell that helps us fight off infections.

Around 7,500 people are estimated to be living with HIV in Ireland.

O’Neill performed out of drag on RTÉ's Dancing with the Stars for the first-time last week.

He ditched his drag persona for the evening, and he and professional dance partner Denys Samson wowed the judges with an impassioned Paso Doble to The Pet Shop Boys hit ‘It’s a Sin’.

The dance was dedicated to Professor Fiona Mulcahy, one of the first doctors who treated him when he was told he likely had a mere five years to live.

Not only did he top the board with an impressive score of 29 out of 30, but he also used the occasion to pay tribute to how far Ireland has come in equality rights for the LGBTQ community.

Speaking on RTÉ’s Late Late Show last night, O’Neill told Ryan Tubridy that he is inundated with messages every time he speaks publicly about living with HIV.

"Every time I speak publicly... I know this week now, after talking to you Ryan, I'll be getting emails this week and they'll be from people who are living in different parts of the country,” he said.

“Mostly in smaller towns but not always, people who are living with HIV and they have never told a single soul, not a brother, not a sister, not a friend, nobody."

“They have to reach out to a stranger they’ve seen on the television because it’s this huge psychological millstone around their neck.”

The Pantibar owner said he joined the dance competition to show people living with the condition that you can lead a normal life.

“I want to be in your living room on a Sunday night while you’re sitting there with your parents, your grandparents and your kids, showing you that I can be a 54-year-old man living with HIV for the last 27 years certainly able to dance on live television, it’s a new world,” he said.

"The reason that I wanted to do this on Sunday night live entertainment is because most people out there still have an image of living with HIV that's trapped [in the past].

"People still have this massive fear about it. They think it's a life-ending condition, and that is not the case anymore. And it hasn't been like that for many years now."

Statistics published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in December 2022 indicated there had been more than 800 newly notified cases of HIV to-date in 2022, more than double the number for the same period in 2021.

In October, the HSE launched SH24, a free online service which provides the option to test for sexually transmitted infections (STIs) at home.

Those aged 17 and older can order an STI test kit online, which is delivered to their home by post. Users then return the samples in the pre-paid envelope provided.

It is a discreet and completely confidential service and results are sent by phone.

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