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Almost 100,000 home STI test kits ordered under through HSE programme – The Irish Times

More than 8,000 home testing kits a month were ordered by people looking to see if they had contracted a sexually transmitted infection (STI) last year.

The free tests, which are distributed by the Health Service Executive and conducted at home before being sent for processing, have led to thousands of positive results being logged outside of traditional clinical settings.

Of those who ordered the nearly 100,000 kits throughout last year, more than half said they had never before visited a clinic, suggesting the service reaches many more people who are concerned about their sexual health or passing on infections to others.

The success of the national home STI testing service, officially launched last October after being piloted in 2021, comes following a rise in recorded cases of STIs. The first 51 weeks of last year had levels higher than all of 2019, the last full year of data before the Covid-19 pandemic, which had significant impacts on screening and the health service.

Data provided by the HSE’s Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme show that 96,996 kits were ordered last year, an average of 8,083 per month or some 265 every day.

To date, 59 per cent of the tests have been returned for laboratory processing, leading to the diagnosis of 4,112 cases of chlamydia and 931 cases of gonorrhoea. In addition, 860 individuals had a “reactive blood result” for syphilis, HIV, hepatitis B or C. A reactive result appears positive but requires confirmation via a blood test and does not always lead to a diagnosis.

“The national home STI testing service is reaching those who may otherwise not attend face-to-face services,” a HSE spokesman said. “Of those who ordered a home STI test kit in 2022, 56 per cent reported having never previously visited a sexual health clinic.”

In January 2021, when the home testing scheme was piloted in three counties, it had to be suspended after just one day due to overwhelming demand.

Meanwhile, the HSE has said a recent spike in HIV diagnosis notifications to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre was in part explained by an influx of people to the country who had tested positive for the virus before arriving. HPSC data last week showed rates had more than doubled last year.

“The majority [77 per cent] of HIV diagnoses in [the first three quarters] of 2022 are in those who were previously diagnosed outside Ireland,” it said.

However, it said new HIV diagnoses in Ireland may be due in part to unmet demand for PrEP – a highly effective drug that prevents the virus from establishing itself in the body.

“Many PrEP services are at capacity and potential PrEP users report difficulty in accessing appointments,” the HSE spokesman said.

Since the national PrEP programme was established in 2019, 7,715 individuals have been approved through a network of clinics.

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