THE saying goes that: ‘Your health is your wealth’.

But do we really consider our sexual health to be a top priority?

With Sexually Transmitted Infections (STIs) on the rise in Northern Ireland, including two new HIV diagnoses each week, maybe it’s about time that we did.

Sexual health nurse, Andrea McCauley believes we are far too oblivious to the risks posed by STIs.

But with a promise of better access to services in the West before the end of the year, there will soon be no excuse for not taking responsibility ourselves.

Andrea has 20 years of experience in her field. And in that time, she has seen the clear difference between the attitudes of people living in a city towards sexual health, and those of us living in a rural setting.

While people living in London attend clinics without fear of being seen by someone they know, the stigma surrounding the topic of our sexual health leaves us feeling embarrassed and ashamed.

As Andrea says herself: “People in Fermanagh and Tyrone are very sensitive about this topic. And because they don’t talk about it, far too many aren’t aware they could be at risk.” The sad reality is that many STIs do not carry any symptoms at all. And contraception doesn’t always protect you from a STI.

The key issue here though, is that while many infections are treatable, it falls to us to take the pro-active approach to make an appointment and find out if we have the ‘all clear’ or not.

Through her work Andrea and her team in the Western Trust are on a quest to bring a normalisation to the whole idea of sexual health.

And it is her hope that a new clinic at South West Acute Hospital (SWAH) will reach out to those most at risk.

But the Trust can only do so much.

It is up to us to make the positive change towards a better understanding of our sexual health.

Perhaps this time next year, thanks to improved access to services on our doorstep, attitudes will have changed towards an area of our health which is so vitally important.