Ireland's HIV rate has doubled since 1999 global peak

 

IF THERE was a moment when awareness of HIV penetrated the consciousness of the Irish public, it came on October 2nd, 1985, with the first celebrity death from Aids – that of actor Rock Hudson, news of which was broken by RTÉ at the end of Today Tonight.

“They say,” said Olivia O’Leary, the presenter, “that at the end he weighed just five stone.” Until 1985, HIV was seen in Ireland as an imported virus, according to a 2009 report by the Department of Health and Children, but in that year it became obvious the virus had become endemic in Ireland, and that the country was part of a global epidemic. This is thought to have peaked globally in 1999, with the incidence of newly diagnosed HIV cases falling by 19 per cent since then, according to the 2010 Unaids report.

While HIV prevalence remains greatest in sub-Saharan Africa, with two-thirds of the world’s 33.3 million cases located there, of the 33 countries in which the incidence of new cases fell by more than 25 per cent between 2001 and 2009, 22 are in sub-Saharan Africa, the result not only of the natural arc of the epidemic, but also of the success of prevention strategies. Of the seven countries in which incidence increased by more than 25 per cent, five are in eastern Europe and central Asia.

While the incidence of HIV has declined globally, it has more than doubled in Ireland since 1999, from 190 new cases reported then to 395 last year, which brought the cumulative total reported here to 5,637. Those diagnosed with HIV in Ireland last year ranged in age from 18 to 80, with a median age of 35.6. Two-thirds were men, and of 137 women diagnosed, 25 were pregnant.

HIV incidence among sub-Saharan Africans living here, which peaked at 183 new cases in 2003, has fed into the rise, as has a threefold increase in incidence among homosexual men between 2004 and 2009, from 46 cases to 138 – last year’s figure representing a rise of 42.3 per cent on the 2008 figure of 97. Most of these men (63 per cent) were born in Ireland, the Health Protection Surveillance Centre says, and they most likely acquired HIV here.

Thirty-three new cases of Aids were reported in the State last year, bringing the cumulative total to 1,038. Two people with Aids died last year, bringing the total to 414.

Since 1997, more than €7 million in extra funding has been provided for HIV and Aids treatment here. At the international level, the government undertook in 2005 to double spending to €10 million annually, and by last year the total spending on HIV, Aids and other communicable diseases had reached €114 million, proportionally among the most generous in the world, and far ahead of such parsimonious countries as Italy and Japan.

HIV IN 2009: WORLD NUMBERS

ADULTS AND CHILDREN LIVING WITH HIV

33.3 MILLION

MILLION AIDS-RELATED DEATHS LAST YEAR

1.8 MILLION

MILLION % OF WORLD’S ADULTS (AGED 15-49) WITH HIV

0.8%

NEWLY-AFFECTED LAST YEAR

2.6 MILLION

Source: World Health Organisation