Tackling sexually transmitted infections in Ireland
Date of publishing: 15th May 2018
Tackling sexually transmitted infections in Ireland
Source: Pfizer Ireland
Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are a problem, with the Health and Safety Executive (HSE) calling the current situation a ‘serious public health concern’1. The number of STI notifications in Ireland has risen in recent years2, going from 3,361 in 1995 to 12,753 in 2013 – an increase of 279%2.
The potential crisis in STIs led then Health Minister Leo Varakar to launch Ireland’s first National Sexual Health Strategy and Action Plan in 2015. Speaking at the time, he outlined his strategy to: “expand existing services and make it easier for people to get tested, raise awareness of sexual health issues, and improve education.”2
Two years into the strategy, we review what progress has been made and what challenges remain.
Dr Aisling Loy, a sexual health and HIV specialist in Dublin stated in 2015 that: “Irish people in general still have a very unevolved attitude to sexual health maintenance.”3
The Healthy Ireland survey seems to support this assertion, and provides a fascinating snapshot of behaviour. Of those surveyed, just 22% of respondents had an STI/STD test during their lifetime.1
Given the focus of the sexual health strategy on HIV and AIDS, only 28% of men who have sex with men, and 15% of men who have sex with women have been tested at some point during their lifetime for HIV1.
The safe-sex message doesn’t seem to be changing bedroom behaviour. A survey conducted by iReach Market Research on behalf of Durex claimed that 38% of the Irish population had had unprotected sex4.
The carefree attitude to sexual health protection is demonstrated in the most recent statistics released by the HSE’s Health Protection Surveillance Centre. Reviewing 2016 figures, it recorded a 10% rise in the total number of STIs5, including a 20% increase in infectious syphilis and a 50% increase in infections due to gnorrhoea5.
The strategic vision of this strategy is that everyone in Ireland experiences positive sexual health and wellbeing. This strategy aims to improve sexual health and wellbeing and reduce negative sexual health outcomes by ensuring that everyone living in Ireland has access to high quality sexual health information, education and services throughout their lives6.
The Strategy contains 71 recommendations that address a wide spectrum of sexual health services, from surveillance and prevention, to treatment, counselling and supports, to education and professional development6.
The strategy calls for the provision of a more active approach to sexual health and wellbeing, targeting services for those at the greatest risk and providing clear information on how, when and where patients can access them6.
To support the general population and help GPs achieve this, the HSE has created a comprehensive list of all sexual health clinics and services available across Ireland7.
In tackling sexual health, GPs are ably supported by a range of charities and voluntary organisations that promote sexual health information, and in some cases deliver services. The HSE has provided a comprehensive list of the services available for patients on the ‘Your Sexual Health’ section of its website. While aimed at the public, the information can help support consultations.
Patients can often be reticent to talk about sexual health issues3 so having a stock of sexual health information leaflets in your practice is a convenient way for patients to get information if they want.
Health Promotion Ireland offers over 50 leaflets and posters that you can use within your practice8.
 Department of Health. Healthy Ireland Survey. 2017. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: http://health.gov.ie/blog/publications/healthy-ireland-survey-2017/
 Department of Health. Varadkar publishes Ireland’s first National Sexual Health Strategy & Action Plan. 2015. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: http://health.gov.ie/blog/press-release/varadkar-publishes-irelands- first-national-sexual-health-strategy-action-plan/
 Loy, A. A day in an STI clinic: Peter never got tested because ‘he only sleeps with pretty girls’. Thejournal.ie. 2015. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: http://www.thejournal.ie/sex-transmitted-diseases- ireland-2238397-Jul2015/
 IFPA. A snapshot of contraceptive use among heterosexual couples. 2017. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: https://www.ifpa.ie/Autumn2017-Newsletter-Durex-Study
 Health Protection Surveillance Centre. STI Surveillance Reports. 2017. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: http://www.hpsc.ie/a-z/hivstis/sexuallytransmittedinfections/publications/stireports/
 Department of Health. National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 – 2020. 2015. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: http://health.gov.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/National-Sexual-Health-Strategy.pdf
 Health Service Executive. Sexual Health Services. 2017. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: http://www.hse.ie/eng/services/list/5/sexhealth/
 HealthPromotion.ie. Publication listing. 2017. (Cited 7.12.2017) Available from: https://www.healthpromotion.ie/publication/fullListing?category=Sexual_Health
Date of Preparation: May 2018