Sexual health ‘must be put high on political agenda’

IN a Dáil protest to mark Irish AIDS Day, campaigners yesterday called on the Government to put sexual health on the political agenda by developing a national strategy to deal with the issue.

During a march through Dublin to Leinster House, the Dublin AIDS Alliance (DAA) also said condoms should be made freely available in places where young people congregate.

Although no Government TDs turned up, yesterday’s protest received support from Progressive Democrat Deputy Fiona O’Malley who said the Government needed to “commit serious investment in our sexual health programmes”.

“Our traditional head in the sand approach to sex education in this country continues to haunt us. International studies repeatedly show that empowering young people with quality information about relationships, and sexual health is a key component in tackling HIV and other sexually transmitted diseases,” she said.

The DAA says there has been a 174% increase in reported Sexually Transmitted Infections (STI) in Ireland between 1994 and 2003, with 73% of those cases affecting those below the age of 30.

DAA executive Ann Nolan said that there was no room for complacency despite an 11% drop in new HIV diagnosis to 356 cases last year.

“Given the fact that sexually transmitted HIV accounted for 67% of all cases reported in 2004 and 74% of cases in the previous year, there is a pressing need for Government to act to improve sexual health outcomes for everybody in Ireland,” she said.

Addressing yesterday’s march, Labour Health spokeswoman Liz McManus called on the Government to commit to a renewed information campaign on all sexually transmitted diseases. “That the overwhelming majority of sexually transmitted infections affect people under 30 demonstrates the need for the Government to launch a targeted campaign on sexual health aimed at this specific age group.

“Moreover, with the increase in immigrants to this country from sub-Saharan Africa where standards of medical care would not be of the same level as Ireland, there needs to be a renewed focus on educating these people about sexually transmitted diseases,” she said.

Green Party deputy John Gormley also called for more to be done for AIDS victims in the developing world. “What’s happening in Africa amounts to an extermination of a whole continent,” he said.

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