Gay men’s health service sees growing number of clients

Confidential clinic seeks to ensure higher STI test rate for men who have sex with men

Fri, Jun 6, 2014, 16:15

The number of first-time patients at a centre providing HIV and sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing for gay men increased by 7 per cent last year.

The HSE’s Gay Men’s Health Service (GMHS) today published its 2013 annual report at the 12th annual Gay Health Forum in Dublin Castle.

Manager Mick Quinlan noted an increase in attendance at the Baggot Street-based clinic, with over 5,850 men attending during the year.

A total of 882 of these men were first-time attendees, a 7 per cent increase on 2012. Some 38 per cent of those were aged 24 or younger. One in five men tested for STIs received a diagnosis.

A total of 290 were diagnosed with gonorrhoea and 36 per cent of those were first-time patients

Some 204 people, of whom 38 per cent were first-time patients at the clinic, had chlamydia. HIV was diagnosed in 33 patients, of whom 61 per cent were first-time visitors.

There were also 63 diagnoses of syphilis. Some 63 per cent of those attendees were first-time patients.

“It’s important that we find ways to ensure that a higher proportion of sexually active gay and bisexual men seek STI screening services and that we build on increased levels of confidence that services are accessible and follow this with higher testing rate,” Mr Quinlan said.

GMHS reports a significant proportion of the national number of male cases of gonorrhoea (45 per cent), chlamydia, HIV and syphilis.

It required a fourth doctor on its team in 2013 due to what it described as the dramatic increase in gonorrhoea amongst gay and bisexual men, as previously reported by the Health Prevention Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

The service has also seen growth in the demographic profile of clients, with 43 per cent of attendees born abroad - an increase of 25 per cent on 2012.

Some 14 per cent of attendees were from outside Dublin.

The ‘Man 2 Man’ report, also presented at the event, claimed to represent the largest ever research sample of men who have sex with men across the 32 counties of Ireland.

With ‘Acess to Sexual Health Services’ as its theme, the report aggregates data from the 2010 European MSM Internet Survey (EMIS).

Of the 2,610 respondents to that survey, 38 per cent had never tested for HIV.

In a session chaired by Fine Gael TD Jerry Buttimer, Patrick Murphy of TCD outlined figures on homophobic abuse published in the report.

He said that of the 2,610 respondents, a third (33.6 per cent) had been verbally insulted in the past 12 months. The percentage was higher for respondents in Northern Ireland at 38.9 per cent than for those in the Republic, at 32.6 per cent.

A total of 4.3 per cent of men reported being physically abused because of their sexuality in the past 12 months - 5.4 per cent in Northern Ireland and 4.1 per cent in the Republic of Ireland.

Nearly half of those who responded to the survey (47.5 per cent) reported at least one form of homophobic abuse in the past 12 months.

“The findings on homophobia highlight the need for specific strategies to reach particular subsets of MSM and for initiatives to build positive self-awareness as well as to support and promote self-acceptance of, and comfort with, an individual’s gay identity,” said Mr Quinlan.

The GMHS is the only statutory, dedicated sexual health service for gay, bisexual men and men who have sex with men (MSM) in the Republic and it marked it s 21st year of operation last October.

Both reports are available on www.gmhs.ie