The sexual health advocacy organization ACT UP Dublin has called on Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly to accelerate the reopening of public STI clinics in Ireland, which have been closed to most services since March.
While centres never completely closed, ACT UP criticized the public health system’s high bar for testing during the coronavirus, saying, “access to PEP (“Post-Exposure Prophylaxis” – an emergency HIV prevention method) has been restricted and routine HIV and STI screening is nearly impossible to access, with most clinics seeing only people with obvious symptoms.” According to ACT UP, the lack of readily available testing, and the fact that “many people who contract a sexually transmitted infection (STI) don’t experience symptoms”, leaves Ireland liable as the country’s social life begins to regain normalcy.
Only six of Ireland’s 45 sexual health clinics are operating as per normal or without the need for an appointment/referral. While a few of these organizations appear to be slowly returning to regular and walk-in service (such as HIV Ireland’s own clinics), their capacity and hours are highly limited.
Their calls were specifically directed to Minister for Health Stephen Donnelly, and referenced his previous public statements concerning Ireland’s sexual health funding and stressing the need for more testing. The Minister, who took office last month, has not yet responded for comment.
Ireland’s sexual health is seen by some as cause for concern, especially in comparison to the rest of the European Union. According to an EU report from 2018, Ireland had an HIV infection rate of 10.2 per 100,000, compared to an EU-wide average of 6.2. Another report, this one from 2019, states that Irish gonorrhoea infection rates are the highest in the European Union (save the United Kingdom), at a rate of 49.8 per 100,000 people, versus an EU-wide average of 26.4.
ACT UP also expressed concern that Ireland’s new national programme to provide pre-emptive medication to HIV-negative people free of charge may experience a crippling loss of momentum due to the closure of these clinics. The group lauded the programme, saying, “although the COVID-19 emergency has created delays, this historic opportunity to improve sexual health services must not be squandered.”
ACT UP was founded in 2016 and is the local chapter of the international group ACT UP, The AIDS Coalition to Unleash Power.
If you believe you may be experiencing symptoms of, or have been exposed to someone with an STI, contact your GP and/or consult the HSE HIV and Sexual Health Helpline at 1800 459 459 or [email protected].
Jack McGee, Reporter