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Drink blamed as 10,000 diagnosed with STIs last year
Examiner 26/09/06
by Mary Regan

More than 10,000 Irish people were diagnosed with some form of sexually transmitted infection (STI) last year, with excessive alcohol consumption being blamed for the unprecedented rise in infection rates.

A new report by the Women's Health Council (WHC) identifies the need for a national screening programme for chlamydia, the second most common STI with which 3,000 Irish people were infected last year.

The disease, which leads to infertility in about 10% of cases, now affects almost 11 times more people than it did 10 years ago.

The WHC report, due to be published today, also expresses concern about ano-genital warts, with 2,899 cases detected last year, the highest ever on record.

It said alcohol is one of the biggest contributing factors to unsafe sex, with almost half of men (45%) and a quarter of women (26%), admitting that drinking alcohol had contributed to them having sex without using contraception.

The report said: "The role that alcohol plays in risky sexual behaviour needs to be considered due to high consumption level and binge-drinking pattern."

It points to a recent EU report which shows that Ireland has the highest percentage of binge drinkers in Europe. It said: "It is vital that sexual health promotion campaigns highlight the risks involved in over-consumption and binge-drinking.

Government initiatives in this area must continue and improve in order to ensure that Irish teenagers and adults consume alcohol in a responsible manner, which will not have negative repercussions - not only from a sexual health perspective but also for their long-term physical and mental health."

The report said that while the rise in STIs has caused some concern, "it has not triggered the necessary policy and service initiatives required to combat it."

It said the issue of crisis pregnancy has overshadowed sexual health promotion in general, something it attributed to the "national discourse linked with Ireland's restrictive abortion laws."

The report said that, because of this, Irish people are more likely to use the pill as their chosen form of contraceptive, rather than condoms, which can protect against STIs.

The report, entitled Women and Sexually Transmitted Infections, a Gendered Analysis, says women are more vulnerable to STIs because of their biological make-up, and cultural factors such as the burden of responsibility for contraception. Women are also more likely to suffer greater health repercussions as a result of STIs than men.

The National Women's Council, meanwhile, has called for a health strategy for women. It said Irish women suffer a range of health inequalities and have the secon highest cancer mortality rate in Europe.