The Union of Students in Ireland (USI) has joined calls for the reopening of the Gay Men’s Health Service.
Ireland’s only sexual health service dedicated to gay and bisexual men and the trans community has been closed for over a year due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
USI will now lobby for these services to be reinstated as a matter of urgency after a motion was passed at their congress on Thursday.
“Our rates of HIV diagnoses are still well above European averages. COVID-19 is not the first large-scale health issue we’ve seen in this lifetime, it is just the most publicised. The LGBTQI+ community faced the HIV and AIDS epidemic back in the 80s and 90s and yet here we are a year on, missing four effective testing and treating methods,” Deputy President TU Dublin (Blanchardstown Campus) Students’ Union, Luke Daly said.
During the COVID-19 pandemic, sexual health services have been significantly diminished. While most STI clinics resumed services at the end of last year, the LGBTQ+ community are left waiting for the return of these urgently needed services.
In December 2020, the Minister of State at the Department of Health, Frankie Feighan, said that staff are working towards a phased reopening of the GMHS in the New Year. This has yet to occur.
Over 1,200 fewer people have been diagnosed with HIV or a sexually transmitted infection (STI) this year, than at the same time in 2020 according to figures from the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre.
The figure for the first 13 weeks of this year, up to the week ending 3rd April, is 2,450 – down over a third from the same period last year when the HSE recorded 3,733 HIV or STI diagnoses. It was 27th March last year that the first full lockdown began and STI testing decreased.
“Ongoing restrictions on testing mean that the true rate of transmission of HIV and other STIs in 2020 is likely unknown, with the potential for a significant unchecked spike in HIV transmission,” Stephen O’Hare, Executive Director of HIV Ireland said last year.
Free STI and HIV home testing schemes have been launched by the HSE to massive demand to make up for the shortfall in testing in the last year. However, they are only available in Cork, Kerry and Dublin with 200 home tests available every day (seven days a week) until Sunday 9th May, delivered in partnership with established online STI testing provider SH:24.
ACT UP Dublin said they do not consider online and home testing services as a replacement for full sexual health services, but can help improve access to and complement face-to-face sexual health consultations. They have repeatedly called for the reopening of the Gay Men’s Health Service.
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