The Health Service Executive has reported a five per cent increase in the number of people diagnosed with HIV in Ireland last year.
There were 508 new diagnoses of HIV in 2016, with the total number of HIV diagnoses increasing by five per cent between 2015 and 2016.
Of the new diagnoses, just over half (51 per cent) were among men who have sex with men (MSM). This was the largest number of diagnoses ever reported in MSM, which remains the subgroup most affected by HIV in Ireland.
The report highlights are two main groups making up the new diagnoses. Two thirds of cases are those for whom it is their first indication that they have HIV . One third came to the State with a previous diagnosis of HIV and are transferring their care here. There has been an overall 20 per cent increase since 2012 in people transferring their HIV care to Ireland.
The report also noted that 42 per cent of the MSM cases diagnosed in 2016 were previously diagnosed abroad and had transferred their care to Ireland. Most of these men were born abroad, with the highest number from Latin America.
Dr Derval Igoe, a specialist in public health medicine with the Health Protection Surveillance Centre said that it was encouraging to see the numbers of new diagnoses, where there was no history of previous HIV diagnosis abroad, dropping overall by 6 per cent in the last year, and by 14 per cent among men who have sex with men.
“The HSE recommends that all HIV infected individuals engage with and attend HIV services in Ireland promptly so that they are offered antiretroviral therapy as soon as possible. This recommendation is in place given the benefits to the individual of being on effective antiretroviral therapy and also the protective effect of antiretroviral therapy in preventing transmission of HIV to others.
"Current estimates indicate that more than 90 per cent of people living with HIV and attending services in Ireland are on effective antiretroviral therapy," Dr Igoe said.
Among the HIV diagnoses in 2016, two people were reported to have died at the time of HIV notification, one male and one female.
There were eight deaths reported to the CSO in 2016 where the cause of death was AIDS or HIV, four males and four females.
The report highlighted the need to focus on early engagement in care and immediate initiation of antiretroviral therapy (ART) for clinical benefits, but also to prevent onward transmission.
Dr Fiona Lyons, Clinical Lead for the HSE Sexual Health and Crisis Pregnancy Programme, said said combination HIV prevention approaches are "necessary" to halt transmission of the virus.
“These include access to HIV testing, condoms, post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP), sexual health services, and antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV and harm reduction interventions for people who use drugs,” said Dr Lyons.
“The role of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as an additional tool for HIV prevention in Ireland is currently being established. We are committed to continuing this combination HIV prevention work. Further work is required in particular to reduce late presentations in heterosexually acquired infection,” she added.