HIV cases hit 10-year high as testing and migration rise after pandemic

Diagnoses had dropped during Covid-19 pandemic after being stable in the preceding years

The number of people being diagnosed with HIV in Ireland is at the highest level in a decade, largely due to the inward migration of people living with the condition.

Most of the HIV cases identified this year are in people who have previous diagnoses outside the State, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre.

A total of 644 HIV diagnoses were made by public health doctors in the year up to September, already 60 per cent more than the 401 diagnoses made in all of 2021.

The HPSC points out that diagnoses dropped in 2020 and 2021 due to the impact of the Covid-19 pandemic. “HIV diagnoses in 2022 have increased due to a number of factors including resumption of normal testing services and increased migration to Ireland of people who are living with HIV, including people who have been displaced from Ukraine.

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“The majority of HIV diagnoses in Ireland in 2022 are in people who were previously diagnosed HIV positive outside Ireland.”

Preliminary analysis of the 2022 data shows 77 per cent of HIV diagnoses are in people who were previously diagnosed positive outside Ireland. Males account for most cases (65 per cent) but the proportion of females has increased.

Gay, bisexual and men who have sex with men (gbMSM) account for 55 per cent of diagnoses, followed by heterosexual females at 29 per cent.

Among those who region of origin is known, 88 per cent of diagnoses is among migrants.

In order to halt the transmission of HIV and to achieve a UN target of zero new infections by 2030, the HPSC says it is vital there is a focus on combination prevention approaches to the virus. Anyone with a diagnosis should be engaged in care as soon as possible and start taking, or continue taking, anti-retroviral therapy.

The number of HIV diagnoses had been stable between 2015 and 2019, but falling during the pandemic. Covid restrictions disrupted access to HIV testing, while travel restrictions curtailed inward migration.

However, there is also evidence of behaviour change, with one survey of gbMSM showing most participants had reduced the number of partners during the pandemic.

The HPSC says some of the decline may also be due to the rollout of prophylactic medication (PrEP) in recent years.

Every day, 4,000 people worldwide become infected with HIV. In 2021, 650,000 people died of Aids, the disease HIV develops into if untreated.

To mark World Aids Day on Thursday, 40 Irish buildings will light up in red to show their support for ending HIV and eliminating stigma related to the condition.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times