New HIV cases reach record high


Dublin's St James's Hospital has reported the highest number of new HIV cases in one year since records began, with a 20 per cent increase in positive diagnoses.

It projected 242 people would be diagnosed with HIV in the hospital by the end of the year, compared to 208 people in 2008.

The number of new cases of infections among men who have sex with men doubled over the year. Most of them were under the age of 30.

Dr Fiona Mulcahy, consultant at St James's department of genito-urinary medicine and infectious diseases, said this rise was due to unsafe sexual practices among young men. She said HIV is no longer in the public consciousness due to medical advances in treatment.

She estimated for every three people diagnosed, one does not know they are infected. More than half of infected women learnt they have HIV through antenatal screening and most men found out when screened for other sexually transmitted infections.

Ireland's annual cases have more than doubled in the past 10 years, according to Health Protection Surveillance Centre figures released yesterday. The highest number since records began was 405 cases in 2008. There were 210 new diagnoses reported in the first half of 2009.

"The Government took the finger off the pulse by managing treatment rather than risk," said Dr Mulcahy. She said the majority of new patients did not have health insurance due to their age and antiretroviral treatments cost up to €2,000 per person per year.

Infectious diseases consultant at Dublin's Mater Misericordiae Hospital said Government needle exchange programmes reduced HIV among drug users but ineffective communication with community groups meant other at-risk groups were not getting the information they needed.

The Gay and Lesbian Equity Network yesterday called on the HSE to make testing more widely available and implement a national sexual health strategy.

"If implemented they will result in promoting better sexual health and a reduction the numbers of new HIV infections," said director of gay HIV strategies Tiernan Brady.

Fine Gael health spokesman Dr James Reilly claimed Government complacency had caused complacency among at-risk groups. He called for a national education campaign on HIV prevention.

"It is worrying from a public health perspective because this is costing the Government money," he said. "People at risk are not taking precautions. It requires education, not medication. People need to be reminded of the dangers of unprotected sex."

A spokesman for the HSE said: "Health education in the area of HIV/Aids is a strategic part of the HSE's overall health promotion operations. HSE funding is also made available for a variety of NGOs working in the area of HIV/Aids nationally."