At the Gay Health Forum last week the HSE revealed new data that showed one in six gay men who present themselves to an STI clinic with no symptoms test positive for an STI.
The Gay Health Forum is a conference which has been held annually for the past fifteen years and is organised by the Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) in partnership with the Gay Health Network (GHN).
Fine Gael’s Catherine Byrne indicated that a collaborative approach was required in order to successfully address sexual health within the men who have sex with men (MSM) community.
“In this spirit, all of us here share a common goal and it is to advance the health and wellbeing of LGBT people,” Byrne said.
“The increases in STI infections and HIV, particularly among men who have sex with men, is cause for concern and we know that late diagnosis of HIV remains a problem.”
New GMHS Clinic
To combat these late diagnoses and to allow more people to access STI testing, last September the GMHS introduced an extra clinic on Mondays.
GMHS manager Siobhan O’Dea spoke about the positive impact that the new Monday afternoon clinic is having on their ability to provide a quality service to MSM.
“Since we added the extra evening, we rarely have to turn anyone away now, which is great, and the patient feedback that we have got is extremely positive,” O’Dea said.
Before October 2016, the GMHS were forced to turn away 25 to 35 men every night due to overcrowding.
“The great thing about this clinic is that it normalises testing, and people can view it as a dentist check-up, rather than attending somewhere because you are feeling unwell.”
“A big part of [men not getting tested] is a stigma and fear around HIV testing because if people feel they are at risk, then they feel that they don’t want to know or they don’t want people to know,” she said.
While encouraging MSM to test regularly is one tool in health care providers’ arsenal in the battle against HIV, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) is another.
The one-a-day-pill known as PrEP is not readily available in Ireland as of yet, however GHN are advocating its use in Ireland to reduce the transmission of HIV.
“We continually promote increased access to free STI testing services, post-exposure prophylaxis, condoms lubricant and now pre-exposure prophylaxis,” said Noel Sutton, the GHN chairman.
While PrEP is not yet available via the HSE, the GMHS will monitor MSM who are sourcing PrEP independently to ensure that their health is not affected and that the medication is legitimate.
© 2017 GCN (Gay Community News). All rights reserved.