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Number of women diagnosed with HIV doubles amid 68% increase in overall cases

The number of women being diagnosed with HIV in Ireland has doubled since 2019.

THERE HAS BEEN a significant increase in the number of HIV cases reported in Ireland since 2019, in particular among women, according to figures published today.

Some 884 cases of HIV were notified last year, a 68% increase in new notifications compared to 2019 when 527 cases were notified.

New figures for 2022, published by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC), outline a sharp increase in new notifications compared to 2019, the last year where data collection was not disrupted by the Covid-19 pandemic.

The overall number of women being diagnosed with HIV more than doubled during the same period. Some 298 women were diagnosed in 2022, up from 134 in 2019.

While the rate in females (11.4 in 100,000) nearly doubled compared to 2019, the rate in males increased by less than 50% (23 per 100,000).

First-time diagnoses accounted for 20% of the almost 900 cases reported last year. Compared to pre-pandemic years, the number of first-time diagnoses has fallen by 9%.

Screenshot 2023-11-08 122259 HPSC HPSC

A small increase in the number of cases (five) among people who identified as transgender was also recorded.

Greater access to testing, including at-home testing, is one of the reasons for the increase in cases reported.

Speaking about the increase of cases in certain groups, HIV Ireland Executive Director Stephen O’Hare said the development of “bespoke community-based services to support women and trans people living with, and impacted by, HIV should be a key priority in the development of Ireland’s new National Sexual Health Strategy”.

“In this regard, the significant uptake of self-testing through the HSE’s home testing initiative, particularly among women, is to be welcomed. There remains room for more targeted gender specific and community-led approaches across the island,” he said.

Gay, bisexual and other men

Despite the large increase in women being diagnosed, gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (gbMSM) remain the primary groups affected by HIV in Ireland, accounting for 58% of first-time diagnoses in 2022.

The report shows that 67% of HIV diagnoses among gbMSM last year were in people previously diagnosed with HIV outside Ireland, while first-time diagnosis accounted for 28%.

This indicates an increase of 75% among gbMSM with a previous diagnosis of HIV outside Ireland compared to 2019. The rate of first-time diagnoses in 2022 in gbMSM was 11% lower than the rate in 2019 and 36% lower than the peak in 2015.

Screenshot 2023-11-08 115944 HPSC HPSC

Heterosexuals accounted for 35% of HIV diagnoses in Ireland in 2022 with 75% of HIV diagnoses in people who were previously diagnosed with HIV outside Ireland and 19% among people with a first-time diagnosis.

Compared to 2019, this shows a large increase of 233% in HIV diagnoses in 2022 among heterosexuals with a previous diagnosis of HIV outside Ireland, while the number of first-time diagnoses decreased by 19%.

‘Silver lining’

O’Hare welcomed the decrease in first-time diagnoses, calling it a “silver lining” amid the overall increase in figures.

“Despite a worrying rise in overall case numbers, the continued fall in the number of first-time diagnoses compared to pre-Covid years highlighted in this new data represents something of a silver lining.”

Ireland has committed to eliminating first-time diagnoses of HIV by 2030 in line with international targets.

“We are hopeful that increased availability of clinic and community-based testing, coupled with the new initiatives, such as free HIV and STI self-testing services, and the continued roll out of the national PrEP programme, are proving effective contributors to this visible trend.”

O’Hare said, given the significant increase in the number of people living with HIV in Ireland, “every effort must be made to ensure a meaningful end to stigma and shame, both in the provision of services and among those impacted by HIV”.

“This year, the WHO reconfirmed that people living with HIV, on effective treatment, and who have achieved an undetectable viral load, cannot pass on the virus. In other words, there is zero risk.

“Concrete measures to eliminate outdated attitudes which unfairly stigmatise and shame people, including widespread information, education and training initiatives must be utilised, in partnership with key stakeholders, across services and across society,” he added.