National Sexual Health Strategy review calls for improved HIV services in Ireland

HIV Ireland praised the independently conducted review for suggesting the next national sexual health strategy should prioritise education, PrEP accessibility and abortion services.

A doctor in a white coat crosses their arms, HIV Ireland commends national sexual health strategy
Image: Photo by Tima Miroshnichenko

A recent review of Ireland’s National Sexual Health Strategy has recommended developing a new plan to better address the growing rates of HIV and STIs in the country.

The independent review of the 2015 strategy was commissioned by the Department of Health and completed by consultancy firm Crowe Ireland Advisory, and was conducted in preparation for the next strategy, which will be published by the end of 2023.

In conducting the review, strategies in three other EU member states were examined, including France, Spain and the Netherlands. The team also consulted with key stakeholders, including HIV Ireland, who was glad that so many community concerns regarding sexual health were reflected in the recommendations.

Executive Director of HIV Ireland, Stephen O’Hare, said that the organisation was particularly pleased to see “…a proposed model of care for HIV and STI services; increased access and availability of PrEP to prevent HIV; improvements in relationship and sexuality education for children and young people; addressing issues relating to chemsex; and improvements to abortion and reproductive services.”

Last year, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre observed a steady rise in HIV and STI cases in Ireland. As of March 18, 2023, there has been a 91% increase in reported HIV cases compared to this time last year. Significant increases in chlamydia (53%) and gonorrhoea (187%) cases have also been reported.



With the first sexual health strategy expiring in 2020 and as HIV rates in Ireland continue to rise, Mr O’Hare said, “The emphasis must now be on developing a comprehensive, evidence-based, and culturally appropriate National Sexual Health Strategy incorporating best practices, ensuring adequate resources, and a responsive approach to the evolving landscape of sexuality and sexual health service provision in Ireland.

“This should include alignment with existing policy commitments, including the global Fast Track Cities initiative, to combat rising rates of HIV and end new HIV transmissions and HIV-related stigma by 2030.”

In addition to HIV and STI prevention services, the review includes over 30 recommendations identifying which priorities should be included in the 2023-2030 National Sexual Health Strategy.

Additionally, the review indicates potential action items include improving sex education for young people with a focus on positive menstrual health education, and further developing and expanding the free contraception scheme for women.

The review also advocated for improving access to abortion and reproductive services. Currently, people who are pregnant in Ireland can only receive an abortion if the pregnancy is less than 12 weeks. The report indicates that some health workers believe this limitation is too restrictive and the three-day wait protocol is burdensome.

Despite abortion being legalised in Ireland in 2018, according to the Irish Family Planning Association (IFPA), Irish citizens still regularly travel to the UK for terminations where there is no waiting period and anyone can attend a GP, doctor, sexual health clinic, or abortion service for a referral. A comprehensive legal review of abortion care in Ireland is due to conclude this year.


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