Free STI testing Ireland: ‘Debunking The Myths‘ of STIs with Doctor Zara Molphy, Head of Research Programmes at RCSI Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology was featured on the RTE 2FM Radio show with Lottie Ryan on August 28th 2023. The workshops run by ‘Debunking The Myths’ are aimed at 4th to 6th year secondary school...
Free STI testing Ireland: ‘Debunking The Myths‘ of STIs with Doctor Zara Molphy, Head of Research Programmes at RCSI Department of Obstetrics and Gynaecology was featured on the RTE 2FM Radio show with Lottie Ryan on August 28th 2023.
The workshops run by ‘Debunking The Myths’ are aimed at 4th to 6th year secondary school students and aim to provide them with comprehensive, non-judgemental sexual health education delivered by healthcare experts.
Below is the basic transcript of the interview.
Lottie: a lot of people are embarrassed to talk about it or to get tested
Zara: STI rates have increased by 20% since pre-pandemic figures, we can’t really say why this has happened but it’s likely due to a number of reasons including life returning to normal after the pandemic, everyone is back socialising and travelling, some people are back travelling to countries with high rates of STIs. one positive thing is that during 2021 the government opened free STI testing on a pilot basis and since then it has expanded nationwide. The rates of testing has also increased which would contribute to the increase in numbers.
L: Is the home testing an easy thing to do?
Z: Yes! The home kits are available from SH:24.ie so it’s a really website where you can order your free test online. They ask you a number of questions about the types of sex you’ve had, who you had it with, if you used protection, and were there any risks involves. Basically then what happens is a lovely white packet comes with no markings, it could be anything. What is contains is the required test kit based on the questions you answered and a return envelope so you don’t have to pay postage. Then you get a text to say your test is received and when to expect results.
It’s available to over 17s at the moment.
L tell me about Debunking the Myths coming in the midst of all that
Z: We’re a team of consultants, doctors, health psychologists, midwives and researchers based in the heart of Dublin city. The RCSI Obstetrics and Gynaecology Department is actually based in the Rotunda Hospital and we treat women of all ages and stages in their reproductive lifecycle. Over the last couple of years we’ve noticed the impact of misinformation and Doctor Google on our patients. We’ve become more conscious of the difficulties that teenagers face in respect to this. We got the grant from SFI and it’s currently a 2 year programme which started Jan 2022, we’ve delivered in-person and online workshops which are 2 hours in length and they build on topics which are covered in the RSE curriculum. consent anatomy SATU etc.
One of the benefits of the workshops are that students can ask our experts anonymous questions through the use of an app and that’s how we collated the most popular questions from the students. It’s amazing because they might be a bit embarrassed to speak up in front of their peers.
L: Everyone in a moment of fear has a temptation to turn to Doctor Google, between that and social Media, do you think that’s where a lot of people find information?
Z: Totally! There’s so much information available online but that doesn’t mean it’s the right information. There’s an infodemic a the moment in that we see misinformation and disinformation online, through social media, we can see people editing their own Wikipedia pages and people claiming to be experts. We want to help teenagers to interrogate the sources they use for their sexual health.
L: I think this is something we need to be conscious of. Just because something pops up on your phone or on a Wikipedia page that doesn’t mean that it’s the gospel, anybody could put it up there.
Z: For sure! So what we’ve tried to do is make the team consider the sources and where they come from, is it a government source like sexualwellbeing.ie or SH:24.ie and to read beyond the headlines don’t just see the sensational headline, look at it and see if the information support the claims.
L: You mentioned students submitted their questions, I’m interested to know what the common questions are? I think a lot of young adults have pretty similar questions?
Z: We have combined all the questions from our workshops and pooled them into different subjects. So STIs is the subject with the number of questions we were really overwhelmed with. We received over 300 questions based on STIs alone. Then we posed 35 of the top questions we see coming in, to Doctor Eoghan De Barra who is an infectious disease consultant in Beaumont and he has answered them, they are all available on our Instagram and TikTok on @Debunkingmyths_
L: I think when people have questions it comes with fear of the unknown, and embarrassment for adults and young people when it comes to STI testing and STI disclosure.
Z: It’s the risk of embarrassing yourself, shaming yourself, potentially being discriminated against, or isolated from your peers, there is a lot to consider when disclosing and STI. What we hope to do is make that a little easier for young people by breaking down the taboo and giving them knowledge and resources.
L: Jen spoke to a HIV nurse and specialist, Aoife sharing her story is incredibly powerful. It shouldn’t be someone being brave coming forward to tell these stories, it should be information which easily accessible. How can people get tested? and how can people reach out to you?
Z: People can get tested in person by attending GP, community nurses, health services in third level education, Well Woman clinics and the Irish Family Planning Association. And we’ve already spoken about the SH:24 online kits which are available to teens over the age of 16. There’s also STI clinics such as the GUIDE clinic in St. James’ Hospital which hosts a special clinic for young people. There is a lot of options
L: I suppose there is point to touch on with the parents of teens, they might want to know how to talk to their children or to young people about sexual health because they might be embarrassed too.
Z: I think parents can firstly try to be mindful of the language they use talking specifically about STIs because of the shame and taboo, so avoid placing blame and generally talk early and talk often. I’m sure a lot of parents may not have had the best sex education when they were younger and are conscious that their teenagers now have access to information, they likely know a lot, so just talk about it, be direct, honest and think about your teenagers point of view. don’t be scared, keep the conversation open, it’s important to look beyond facts to see their feelings, values and attitudes.
At Debunking The Myths we encourage people to get tested for STIs regularly, as it is crucial to your overall health and wellbeing. It is essential to remember that STIs can affect anyone, regardless of age, gender, or sexual orientation. Regular testing helps ensure that you’re aware of your sexual health status, which is vital for making informed decisions about your relationships and protection. STIs often show no symptoms, or their symptoms can be mistaken for other common ailments. By getting tested regularly, you can catch and treat STIs early, preventing potential complications such as infertility, chronic health problems, or passing the infection to others unknowingly. Remember that testing is easy, confidential, and free in the Republic of Ireland through SH:24.
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