Irish rate of HIV diagnoses highest in western Europe

Rate of diagnosis in Ireland was over three times higher in 2022 than the European average

Ireland had the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in western Europe last year, according to the European Centre for Disease Control and the World Health Organisation.

It also had the highest rate of HIV diagnoses in men who have sex with men (MSM) in Europe, and one of the highest rates of diagnoses acquired through heterosexual transmission, according to the 2023 report on HIV/AIDS surveillance from ECDC and WHO Europe region.

At 17.5 per 100,000 people, the Irish rate of HIV diagnosis was over three times higher than the European average. Only Cyprus and Estonia had higher rates among EU states.

The report says 37 of the 49 countries in the WHO Europe region, including 26 in the EU, reported an increase in HIV diagnoses last year, with some countries reporting record-high numbers in a single year.

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In 2022, over 110,486 HIV diagnoses were reported in the WHO region, including 23,000 from EU states. The rate of diagnosis was up on 2021 but substantially down on pre Covid-19 pandemic levels.

The rise in cases in many countries is attributed to increased movement of people living with HIV in European countries.

Only 10 per cent of those diagnosed with HIV in Ireland last year were Irish, the lowest proportion of any country apart from Iceland. Twenty per cent were from eastern and central Europe, 22 per cent from sub-Saharan Africa and 25 per cent from Latin America and the Caribbean.

While HIV poses a challenge that is medically treatable, the rate of AIDS diagnoses has dropped by over half in the region in the last decade. Three AIDS-related deaths were reported in Ireland last year, the highest figure in a decade.

Last year, 884 HIV diagnoses were made in Ireland, an increase of 68 per cent compared to 2019, according to the Health Protection Surveillance Centre in a separate report published on Friday, World AIDS Day. The majority (62 per cent) occurred in people previously diagnosed with HIV outside Ireland.

“While people previously diagnosed with HIV abroad would be unlikely to benefit from HIV prevention programmes in Ireland, it is of vital importance that they are promptly linked to care upon their arrival in Ireland, for their own clinical benefit and to prevent onward transmission,” the HPSC says.

Last year’s total included 173 first-time HIV diagnoses, an increase on the previous year but down on pre-pandemic numbers. Four men received a first-time HIV diagnosis for every woman who did; almost 60 per cent were among MSM.

The HPSC expressed concern that almost half of first-time diagnoses occurred late.

Separately, the HPSC says rates of flu remain stable this winter but RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) are increasing.

Some 732 RSV cases were notified last week, up from 615 the previous week. Hospitalisations increased from 285 to 325.

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen

Paul Cullen is Health Editor of The Irish Times