As Valentine’s Day approaches, and with it Northern Ireland’s Sexual Health Awareness week, the Public Health Agency (PHA) is asking us to think smart AND think romance. Taking care of yourself and the one you love is a theme that the Agency wants everyone to adopt. The Agency is asking everyone who is sexually active to protect their sexual health by being safe, and getting tested if they have put themselves at risk of Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs).
2010 figures for Northern Ireland(1) show that new STI diagnoses increased by 6% compared for 2009. New HIV diagnoses rose by 20% (to 79) and the number of people living with HIV infection, increased by 12% compared with 2009 (to 474 people). The diagnoses of the other main infections also increased:
- uncomplicated gonorrhoea increased by 13%;
- genital herpes simplex (first episode) increased by 18%;
- genital warts (first episode) increased by 2%;
- non-specific genital infection increased by 14%;infectious syphilis increased of 4%.
Dr Bernadette Cullen, Consultant in Public Health, PHA, said: “We want to use Sexual Awareness Week to remind people of the dangers of HIV and STIs, and the importance of safer sex practices. Untreated STIs can result in serious health issues such as infertility. While it may be thought that young people and men who have sex with men (MSM) are particularly at risk, the safer sex message applies to everyone. We know people may be infected with HIV and STIs without having any symptoms, so it is important to protect yourself and to stop the spread of infection to others. Use condoms, limit the number of sexual partners, and get checked at your GP surgery or your local Genito Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinic, if you have put yourself at risk.”
Services available across Northern Ireland during Sexual Health Awareness Week include:
Belfast and the North West
The Rainbow Project is providing a free HIV and Syphilis Testing Service, funded by the PHA. Tests are by appointment only and are available in Belfast at 9-13 Waring Street and in L’Derry at 12A Queen Street. MSM have the opportunity to get tested in a safe and welcoming environment. The whole process takes one hour, including getting the test results. For further information or to book an appointment contact [email protected], Tel: (028) 9031 9030.
The PHA funded Northern Regional College (NRC) sexual health clinic continues to run its clinic on Thursday mornings, based in the Ballymena campus.Young people can access the clinic for family planning and sexual transmitted infection (STI) testing. A further clinic will soon be opening in the Newtownabbey campus.The Northern Health and Social Care Trust and the HIV support centre are also working with NRC to provide sexual health information stands and STI presentations at each campus from 6 – 10 Feb, leading up to Valentine’s Day, Sexual Health Awareness week and the College’s holiday. For further information Tel: (028) 9024 9268.
The PHA funded ‘Youth Health Advice Clinics’ continue to be available in colleges and out reach centres the Southern area. They offer a range of services for young people including sexual health services. The Southern Regional College is also holding ‘Eyes Wide Open’ interactive workshops on sexual health (by Love for Life), 8 – 10 Feb. Covering contraception, pregnancy, STIs and the link between sex and alcohol, the workshops will also challenge perceptions and highlight the importance of informed, healthy relationship choices that reflect respect and self-worth. Further information is available from Lyndsey McCann, Tel: (028) 3741 2883.
South Eastern area
The South Eastern Regional College, Lisburn Campus, is holding a pilot Sexual health check-up on 21 February. Further information is available from Gabrielle O’Neill, Tel: (028) 9250 1377.
Workshops to ‘Explore how faith plays a role in relationships and discover the best ways to communicate to your child and/or young person about relationships, friendships and decision making’ are being held 1 and 6 Feb, in Belfast. They are for parents and those working with young people. For further information Tel: 028 3882 0555
Valentine’s Day Young people’s Conference on sexual health, alcohol, drugs and keeping safe on Internet, by Western Health and Social care Trust, Youth Action and Strabane Community Safety Partnership. This conference will be held in Strabane, 14 Feb. Further information is available from Ann Linstrom, Tel: (028) 7186 5127.
For information or advice on STIs, or to discuss any sexual health issue, contact your local GUM clinic or your GP.
Further information can also be obtained from the ‘Health Protection’ Directorate on the PHA website, www.publichealth.hscni.net. You can also download the PHA booklet Don’t gamble with your sexual health, from the ‘Publications’ section of this website, along with information on local GUM clinics.
(1) HIV and STI surveillance in Northern Ireland 2011. An analysis of data for the calendar year 2010. http://www.publichealth.hscni.net/publications/hiv-and-sti-surveillance-northern-ireland-2011-analysis-data-calendar-year-2010
Contact PHA Press Office, Ormeau Avenue, on 028 9055 3663
Notes to the editor
GUM clinics in Northern Ireland:
- Belfast Trust
Genitourinary Medicine, Level 3 Outpatients Department, Royal Group Hospitals, Grosvenor Road, Belfast. BT12 6BA. Tel: (028) 9063 6477/6483
- Northern Trust
Genitourinary Medicine, Outpatients Department 2, Causeway Hospital, 4 Newbridge Road, Coleraine. BT52 1HS. Tel: (028) 7034 6028, (028) 7034 7872
- South Eastern Trust
Sexual Health Clinic, Outpatients Dept, Downe Hospital, 2 Struell Wells Road, Downpatrick. BT30 6RL Appointments Tel: (028) 44838133; Nurse Advice Tel: (028) 4483 8392
Monday – Bangor Community Hospital. Tel: (028) 4483 8133
- Southern Trust
Genitourinary Medicine, John Mitchell Place, Hill Street, Newry. BT34 2BU. Tel: (028) 3083 4215, E: [email protected]
Tuesday – Clinical Zone, Ground Floor, Portadown Health & Care Centre, Tavanagh Avenue, Portadown. BT62 3BE.
- Western Trust :
Genitourinary Medicine, Anderson House, Glenshane Road, Londonderry. BT47 1SB. Tel: (028) 7161 1269
Sexual Health Clinic, Outpatients Dept, Tyrone County Hospital, Omagh. BT79 0AP. Tel(028) 8283 3189