Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) are on the rise in Northern Ireland, so the Public Health Agency (PHA) is launching a major new campaign aimed at improving and protecting people’s sexual health and wellbeing.
Northern Ireland had the largest proportional increase in new HIV diagnoses anywhere in the UK between 2000-2013, and the overall number of people here living with the condition has almost doubled over the past decade. There were also 537 new episodes of uncomplicated gonorrhoea diagnosed in Genito-Urinary Medicine (GUM) clinics in 2013, compared with 451 in 2012 and 336 in 2011.
Dr Louise Herron, Consultant in Public Health Medicine at the PHA, said: “By having unprotected sex you could effectively be sleeping with everyone your partner’s ever slept with, putting yourself at risk of getting HIV or another STI.
“This new campaign aims to promote good sexual health and contribute to reducing STIs in Northern Ireland.
“The Health Survey Northern Ireland 2013/14 found that in the 16-24 age group, around a quarter of people said that they had three or more sexual partners in the last year. The Health Survey also indicated that nearly a third of people agreed that drinking alcohol had contributed to them having sex without using a condom. That’s why it is so important that both men and women plan ahead, prepare for the possibility of sex, and carry condoms.
“People with STIs don’t always have symptoms, for example 24% of people with HIV don’t know they have it, so anyone having unprotected sex could be putting their health at risk.”
The campaign will specifically target 16-34 year olds as this age group has the highest rate of STIs, and it will encourage them to protect themselves.
Dr Carol Emerson, Consultant in Genito-Urinary/ HIV Medicine at Belfast Trust, added: “We are also encouraging people to get tested if they have put themselves at risk. Only one in nine people surveyed in the Health Survey Northern Ireland said they had attended a GUM clinic, which shows there could be a lot of people out there with untreated infections that they are continuing to spread. GUM clinics are situated across Northern Ireland, staff are non-judgmental and we welcome everyone who takes responsibility for their sexual health by getting checked out.”
To accompany the campaign, a new website has been developed with lots of information on looking after your sexual health, symptoms of STIs (as well as information on STIs which may be symptomless) and details of Northern Ireland GUM clinics: www.sexualhealthni.info
Dr Anne Kilgallen, Deputy Chief Medical Officer at the Department of Health, Social Services and Public Safety, said: “Interventions, such as this campaign, have an important role in preventing sexually transmitted infections because they encourage people to reconsider their risk and behaviour. In addition to raising awareness of sexual health issues, the PHA’s campaign will provide accurate advice and signpost people to reliable sources of support and help.”