HIV among potential epidemics feared by Gay Men’s Health Service
The closure of Ireland’s only sexual health clinic dedicated to gay men has fueled fears of a “massive surge” of epidemics of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
Dublin’s Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) closed on March 19 last year due to the pandemic and has only recently resumed on a limited basis.
Members of the gay community and healthcare professionals have urged its immediate reopening, in particular to screen for STIs and to expand its PrEP – Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis program taken to reduce the risk of contracting HIV.
According to HSE Community Healthcare East, which operates GMHS, its clinic saw 2,228 patients last year. However, Act Up (Aids Coalition to Unleash Power), a grassroots activist organization, says the service normally sees around 1,000 people each month.
In a recent letter pleading for the resumption of service, the organization warned of the “dire consequences for the sexual health of gay and bisexual men in Dublin and Ireland” of its ongoing closure.
“A significant percentage of STIs (including HIV) may be asymptomatic or the symptoms may not be recognized. Given the high rates of STI diagnosis among gay and bisexual men when screening is widely available, it is almost certain that the number of undiagnosed and untreated STIs has increased dramatically over the past year, ”said he declared.
“Allowing the proliferation of undiagnosed STIs creates the conditions for a massive increase in infections. The longer this problem goes unanswered, the longer it will take and the more resources it will take to contain it. “
Sexually transmitted infection consultant Dr Derek Freedman said while most people continue to move away socially, there remains a group that continues to seek sex during the pandemic.
“Closing the doors completely for a year because of an epidemic can lead to a resurgence of easily treatable infections. . . that we may have to live with for an additional period of time, ”he said.
“With this closure, it means we’re going to see people catching HIV who might have avoided it otherwise. PrEP is [otherwise] proves to be an extremely effective mechanism for stopping infection. “
Gonorrhea and syphilis
However, he said that while there was anecdotal evidence that gonorrhea and syphilis infections appear to be problematic in the past year, he has not heard of similar issues with HIV.
John Gilmore, assistant professor of nursing at University College Dublin and member of Act Up, noted that there have always been health inequalities in the gay community.
“Men come from all over Ireland to access these services,” he said, adding that although existing PrEP recipients are seen, the service is not being extended to new users.
Mr. Gilmore also noted that post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) was not given to people who may have been exposed to HIV.
In a statement, Martina Queally, managing director of HSE Community Healthcare East, explained that at the onset of the pandemic, GMHS staff were out of necessity reassigned to other HSE departments.
“Some staff continue to be redeployed to Covid-19 services, including to the Covid-19 vaccination program which has started in recent months,” she said. “Covid-19 has imposed increased demand on HSE services which must be provided under current restrictions.”
The service reopened in January on a “phased basis”.