Irish Independent 13/08/2006
DOCTORS at Ireland’s third-level colleges have admitted for the first time to treating HIV-positive students in their centres and have called on the Government to rethink its current sexual education policy, which is “failing and ineffective”.
The news comes as a new sexual health survey conducted by Trinity College Dublin (TCD) of over 2,000 students obtained by the Sunday Independent showed that 51 per cent of students admitted to having a one-night stand and 58 per cent of those said they had more than one.
A separate UK study published last week revealed that the majority of sexually active teenagers were “mis-using” condoms, risking sexually transmitted infections (STIs) and unwanted pregnancies.
The admission that students within Irish colleges are HIV positive is, according to medical chiefs, merely a reflection of society in general.
According to Health Service Executive (HSE) figures, up until the end of 2005, there were 4,082 known cases of HIV infections in Ireland, but it is unclear how many of those are students.
Of the 318 HIV infections diagnosed last year, 159 of them were acquired through heterosexual contact. Of those 318 HIV positive cases, 28 were diagnosed with full-blown AIDS at the same time.
The TCD study was led by Dr David Thomas, Medical Director at the college’s student health service, who told the Sunday Independent that treatment of HIV-positive students is nothing new but said thankfully the numbers of cases have not risen like those of other STIs.
The study’s main findings were that alcohol played a big role in students’ decisions to have a one-night stand, sexual education is failing drastically and there is still a taboo about carrying condoms, particularly among girls.
The report also found several “at-risk” groups, which are more likely to engage in risky sexual behaviour, often leading to the contraction of an STI. These at-risk students include those who move out of home when going to college, students who binge drink and those students who consume illicit drugs on a regular basis.
The college’s social and human science students were found to be the most likely to have a one-night stand while engineering students having single-night encounters were most likely to use a condom.
A total of 44 per cent of those surveyed said they had used emergency contraception while over one in five have said they have used the morning after pill more than three times, which the report describes as “worrying”.
Just under one in 10 of those surveyed said they had had an STI, with the female group totaling doubling from five to 10 per cent since 2002. Male homosexuals were found to be very diligent in the use of condoms during sex.
TCD carried out a similar study in 2002, which formed the basis of a Department of Health national survey conducted last year. Entitled the CLAN survey, the study found that the majority of students have had between one and three sexual partners, 71 per cent female and 58 per cent male; 14 per cent had four to five partners, while one in four men have had more than six sexual partners, significantly higher than females.
Dr Sandra Tighe, Medical Director at the UCD Student Health Centre which sees around 19,000 patients annually, said mass sexual education simply does not work whereas peer educationis found to work extremelyeffectively.
“These young adults need practical and hands-on guidance. Alcohol is another big factor in people’s sexual behaviour. Our experience on the ground would tally with the report’s findings.”
It has emerged that the HSE is to give out a massive €165,000 worth of condoms free to prostitutes, gay men and drug addicts in a bid to curb STIs.
The tax-payer is footing the bill for the health-awareness campaign, which is to focus on prostitutes working the streets in Dublin and a city-centre gay men’s project along with a number of addiction services.