UCD Students’ Union (UCDSU) sent a letter to Minister for Health, Stephen Donnelly, February 1st requesting for the restoration of all sexual health services, including free access to HIV testing and PrEP services through the state-funded Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS).
The letter highlights the difficulties that sexual health services have faced in recent months. In March 2020, the GMHS closed its doors due to the coronavirus pandemic and has yet to reopen, depriving thousands of its life-saving services. The GMHS is Ireland’s only dedicated sexual health and well-being service for gay and bisexual men, men who have sex with men and the trans population. In 2019, 12,000 people relied on the GMHS for sexual health and HIV related services. A home test STI screening service and postal Rapid HIV testing scheme were launched by the HSE in response to Covid-19 restrictions, but both have since been suspended, partly due to overwhelming excess demand for the services.
UCDSU President, Conor Anderson, stressed the importance of the GMHS and related services to LGBTQ+ youth, particularly those faced with financial barriers to accessing private screening and PrEP services. Ruairí Power, UCDSU Welfare Officer, urged Mr Donnelly to consider the disproportionate impact these closures have on those from low-income backgrounds. Power states, “the lack of availability of such services…has created a two-tier system where service access is determined based on ability to pay rather than clinical need.”
I recognize that we are in the middle of a pandemic, but like it or not, people have not put their sex lives on hold.-Conor Anderson, President UCDSU
The letter also stressed the importance of these sexual health services to the larger fight against HIV in Ireland. PrEP is 99% effective at preventing HIV, so “the continued closure of the busiest PrEP service in the state may well precipitate a major impact on HIV rates in the short term”.
Anderson, expressing the urgency and importance of these resources, states “as a HIV+ person, I consider access to STI testing and sexual health services to be of critical importance, particularly for young people and people from marginalized backgrounds…I recognize that we are in the middle of a pandemic, but like it or not, people have not put their sex lives on hold.”
Donnelly and the HSE have yet to comment respond to comment.
Sarah Eiland- Reporter