Press Release

Minister Corcoran Kennedy opens HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme Conference to mark one year since the launch of the National Sexual Health Strategy

HPV Vaccine extended to Men who have sex with Men (MSM) and people Living with HIV 
Know Now Pilot Successful in Identifying New Cases of HIV infection 
New Model of Crisis Pregnancy Counselling Services to be Developed

Minister for Health Promotion, Marcella Corcoran Kennedy, will open the first HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme conference today to mark the first year of the National Sexual Health Strategy (2015-2020), Ireland’s first national strategy for sexual health and wellbeing.

A main area of focus for the HSE and partners during 2016 has been how to address the increasing rates of sexually transmitted infections and HIV among MSM.

Speaking at the event the Minister said,“The increases in sexually transmitted 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. At the launch of the strategy last year, my Department provided funding to pilot a peer-led, point of care HIV-testing initiative in pubs and clubs. This pilot has had considerable success in identifying new cases of HIV. As we all know, earlier diagnosis of HIV allows for timely initiation of treatment which confers significant benefits on the individual living with HIV and reduces transmission within the population. The HSE is currently reviewing how this method of testing might be further rolled out in 2017”.

Dr Stephanie O’Keeffe, National Director, Health and Wellbeing, HSE, remarked: “The National Sexual Health Strategy was developed in response to the need to establish clear leadership within the health sector in the area of sexual health. The HSE has made significant progress this year on implementing the strategy with the aim of reducing STIs and crisis pregnancy and improving access to sexual health information, education and services.”

Dr Fiona Lyons, Clinical Lead for Sexual Health, HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme announced that the HSE would be making the HPV Vaccine available to men who have sex with men and to people living with HIV.

Speaking at the event, Dr Fiona Lyons said, ‘From January 2017, the HPV Vaccination will be made available to men who have sex with men aged between 16 and 26 years, through public STI Services. The vaccine will help to prevent HPV infection which can cause HPV-associated cancers and genital warts. It is important that MSM have access to the HPV Vaccine because they do not benefit from the herd immunity conferred through vaccinating adolescent girls. The HPV vaccination has been made available to men and women living with HIV under 26 years of age since October through HSE HIV Services”.
The HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre has convened a multi-sectoral National MSM HIV/STI Outbreak Response Group, to investigate the reasons for, and to develop an effective response to the increase seen in HIV syphilis and gonorrhoea in MSM.
Dr Derval Igoe, Chair of the group said: “Working in partnership with the Gay Health Network and Positive Now means that we are in a good position to reach affected communities, raise awareness and provide clear health promotion and harm reduction messages effectively. Safer sex through use of condoms with new or casual partners, and regular testing for STI and HIV are key”.
Helen Deely, Head of the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme provided an update on significant developments in 2016, including a review of crisis pregnancy counselling services with a view to establishing a new model for service delivery. The HSE currently funds 16 organizations to provide 40 services nationwide.

Commenting on the review, Ms Deely said: “There has been a steady decline in women attending face-to-face crisis pregnancy counselling in recent years. In 2017, we intend to move towards a national crisis pregnancy counselling telephone service which we hope will encourage more women to access crisis pregnancy counselling if they require it.”

The event will also include a progress update on the actions set out in the National Sexual Health Strategy Action Plan (2015-2016), a range of presentations and seminars on new and innovative ways of delivering STI care, a masterclass for GPs on STIs, a masterclass for crisis pregnancy counsellors on the current legislative framework and a seminar on Sexting and the Law for parents, teachers and youth workers. There will also be a public speaking competition for transition year students on the theme, “Consent for Intimacy: What do young people think and do they really consider it?”

Editor’s Notes

STI Figures
Between 2014 and 2015, notifications of syphilis rose by 50% and HIV by 30% among MSM. More than half of all HIV diagnoses and four out of five of syphilis notifications in Ireland are now occurring in MSM. The increase in HIV can be partly explained by a change in the notification procedures for HIV in 2015. So far in 2016, notifications of gonorrhoea among men have also risen by 60%. Indications are that the majority of these notifications are among MSM. For more information see:

http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/HIVSTIs/HIVandAIDS/SurveillanceReports/
http://www.hpsc.ie/A-Z/HIVSTIs/SexuallyTransmittedInfections/Publications/STIReports/LatestSTIReports/

National Sexual Health Strategy (2015-2020) is available here: http://www.crisispregnancy.ie/wp-content/uploads/2015/10/National-Sexual-Health-Strategy.pdf

Crisis Pregnancy Counselling Services
For information on State-funded crisis pregnancy counselling services, visit www.positiveoptions.ie

HPV Patient Information Leaflets
For patient information leaflets on the HPV Vaccination visit http://www.crisispregnancy.ie/support-for-services/hpv-patient-information-leaflet/

HIV Services
For information on HIV Services visit www.hivservices.ie