A six-year national sexual health strategy has been published which promises more widespread free access to rapid HIV testing.

Dublin will have its first free rapid HIV testing service and existing services will be expanded in Cork and Limerick.

The new strategy was launched by Minister for Health, Leo Varadkar, in Dublin this morning.

The minister said the pilot project for Dublin is being provided with €150,000 in funding.

He said the Government's new sexual health strategy and action plan is the first of its kind.

Mr Varadkar said the number of STIs and HIV cases have been increasing in recent years and more has to be done to improve sexual health over the next decade.

The minister said education and access to contraception and emergency contraception has worked in reducing crisis pregnancies and this new strategy would be similar in approach, providing age-appropriate information and testing.

Speaking on RTÉ’s News at One he said that he understood catholic schools could refuse to discuss contraception with pupils but that he believed schools and parents had responsibility to prepare children for the world.

Mr Varadkar said that there was a rise in HIV cases because the level of fear of the condition is gone.

The expanded testing will be provided by non governmental organisations.

In community settings for gay and bisexual men, a 12-month pilot testing programme will be delivered by the Gay and Lesbian Equality Network.

Concern over STIs

The strategy says there is concern over the general upward trend in sexually transmitted infections.

HIV infection rates are rising again, as are rates for Chlamydia and Gonorrhoea.

Between 1995-2013 STIs increased from 3,361 to 12,753.

The greatest increase is seen in those under 25 years and among men who have sex with men.

In 2013, 344 people were newly diagnosed with HIV here.

The strategy promises tailored sexual health services for everyone.

It says that people will receive age-appropriate sexual health education and robust sexual health data will be collected.

Dr Fiona Lyons has been appointed as the new national clinical lead for sexual health services.