Demand for LGBTI+ supports and for HIV counselling surged in Cork during the pandemic.
The Sexual Health Centre says demand for its sexual health supports from members of the LGBTI+ community jumped 37% in 2020, while demand for its counselling sessions for people living with HIV increased 60% during the year.
The figures are contained in its 2020 annual report which has been released today.
The surge in demand for supports and counselling follows the centre's introduction of a dedicated LGBTI+ sexual health support service in 2019 to provide guidance on healthy relationships, sexual issues, sexual function, orientation, risk, and ‘coming out’.
The centre said these services were of particular importance during the pandemic when feelings of isolation were reported by many people throughout the year.
The pandemic and the various restrictions forced the centre to adapt its counselling services to focus more on phone and video call supports, with virtual crisis pregnancy counselling, online information campaigns, and sexual health workshops all run online.
Centre chairperson, Ciarán Lynch, said its switch to focus on remote services last year proved crucial to maintaining the community’s sexual health during an exceptionally challenging time.
“By taking stringent health and safety measures at our premises on 16 Peters Street, we were able to continue providing rapid HIV testing and pregnancy testing for much of the year,” he said.
Centre spokesperson, Olivia Teahan, said despite the challenges posed by the pandemic, the centre’s team adapted to continue responding to clients’ needs.
“While the format of our service delivery transformed significantly in 2020, our end goal remained the same — to facilitate positive sexual health outcomes for the people of Cork,” she said.
When public health restrictions were announced last year, the centre immediately launched a free condom postal service and several public information campaigns.
It introduced the Sex and Love Therapy (SALT) programme, led by Donal Clifford, to support people with concerns about problematic sexualised behaviour, and it launched a free e-learning platform for youth workers and other professionals, called ‘WISE Online'.
It also launched Ireland’s first community-based sexual health hub for young people at Youth Work Ireland Cork's ‘Hut’ in Gurranabraher, in partnership with Cork ETB, produced a Covid-19 information card for street-based sex workers, and launched the ‘#AFewHomeTruths’ campaign on billboards in the city to raise awareness of various sexual health issues and support services.
Ms Teahan said partnership has always been central to its work, but was very important last year.
“The changes that came with the pandemic left many people without the support and information needed to make healthy decisions,” she said.