by Gordon Deegan
The Health Service Executive (HSE) is set to splurge around €50,000 for 500,000 HSE branded condoms and 250,000 branded lubrication packets as part of the ongoing battle against unplanned pregnancies and sexually transmitted diseases.
This follows the HSE seeking tenders from firms to produce the ‘Johnny's got you covered’ branded condoms for the HSE’s National Condom Distribution Service and the condoms are to be given out free to people.
The estimated spend of €50,000 on behalf of the HSE Crisis Pregnancy Programme follows the HSE spending €100,000 between 2012 and 2015 on purchasing 700,000 condoms and 300,000 sachets of lubricants.
The fresh spend on the condoms comes against the background of rising STI rates in Ireland and rocketing HIV cases.
The HSE National Sexual Health Strategy 2015 -2020 records that STI notifications increased by 279% from 3,361 in 1995 to 12,753 in 2013 while HIV cases increased to over 500 in 2016.
The 2016 total for new HIV cases was the highest number since records began here and provisional figures for last year showed only a slight dip in spite of the public information campaigns around the dangers of contracting the disease.
The Sexual Health Strategy also records that over one-third of women in Ireland have had an experience of a crisis pregnancy which is defined as a pregnancy "that is neither planned or desired and is a personal crisis for the woman.”
The HSE views condoms as key in limiting the spread of HIV and STIs in men who have sex other men (MSM).
Last year, an HSE HIV/STI outbreak response group focused on putting in place a single distribution scheme for condoms for MSM with the aim of an increased supply of distributing 5,000 condoms and lubricant weekly.
Underlining the task faced by the HSE in halting the spread of STIs amongst young people, the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre last year recorded an 11% increase in the cases of STIs in the 15 to 24 years of age bracket increasing from 4,677 to 5,200 with Chlamydia making up 50% of cases.
Against the background of increased STI rates, Dr Ilona Duffy last month said that “while it’s fine to be on Tinder etc and meeting up with people for sex - you’ve got to take precautions and I think that’s not out there”.
A spokeswoman for the HSE said yesterday: “The National Condom Distribution Service (NCDS) was established by HSE in 2015 to assist in meeting the strategic aims of the National Sexual Health Strategy 2015-2020; to improve sexual health and wellbeing and to reduce negative sexual health outcomes such as STIs and crisis pregnancies.”
She said: “The function of the NCDS is to be a central point for distributing free condoms and lubricant sachets to services working directly with population groups who may be at increased risk of negative sexual health outcomes.
“The NCDS supports sexual health campaigns and services targeting young people and MSM communities. Condoms and lubricant sachets are provided through a variety of channels, such as sexual health education programmes, HSE clinical/non-clinical services, outreach work and events.
The condoms are to be delivered by July of this year and stored at a facility in Co Waterford for nationwide distribution.