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There have been over 470 new diagnoses of HIV in Ireland so far this year

Today, 1 December, marks World AIDS Day 2019.

Image: ktsdesign/Shutterstock

NEW DIAGNOSIS OF HIV in Ireland is still increasing, despite new initiatives to tackle the issue.

There have been 476 new diagnoses of HIV this year, compared to 447 in the same time period last year.

Today, 1 December, marks World AIDS Day 2019.

Ireland is currently at almost double the European average, with higher numbers than during the Aids epidemic in the 1980s and 1990s.

According to the HIV/Aids surveillance in Europe 2008-2017 data, rates increased by 10% or more in countries in both 2008 and 2017 in only three countries – Iceland, Ireland and Malta.

The numbers of new diagnoses continue to rise, despite the initial stages of the PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) HIV prevention programme being implemented by the government after a review by the State’s health watchdog found the drug is highly effective at preventing HIV in people at substantial risk.

The Health Information and Quality Authority (HIQA) said a formal PrEP programme would allow for a safe, effective and cost-saving environment, and the full roll out will be implemented next year, and would be free for those enrolled.

A PrEP scheme card ensures prescriptions of the drug for those who are eligible, and a full screening every three months.

Noel Donnellon from group ACT UP Dublin said there has been welcome movement on the issue, there is a long way to go.

“HIV rates are still high, the figures are always tweaked slightly, but we’re still at a higher rate than last year,” he said.

“However the PrEP programme has just started now, it hasn’t gone to full roll out yet, but some people clinically eligible in the program can take part, and we’re seeing good take up, so the hope is that will eventually effect figures.

“Awareness of PrEP is growing definitely, it’s being articulated among most groups, and there’s been a lot of press around it, so more people are aware.

“It’s early days, I know for a lot of clinics there’s been great take-up.”

According to new research conducted by Core Research on behalf of Teva Pharmaceuticals Ireland, 87% of people had never heard of PrEP.

Donnellon says issues remain over access to the programme when the roll out is implemented.

Ireland’s second largest city Cork is currently the only city without a specialised HIV prevention clinic, after plans for the practice at Cork University Hospital (CUH) stalled.

“In relation to how many places that can prescribe PrEP, there is money mentioned as part of the scheme for more staff, but that won’t kick in till nearly next year,” he said.

“The fact there is no clinic in Cork is an issue, the problem there is it was meant to be set up in CUH and it hasn’t materialised,” he added.

This is “forcing people into smaller clinics and GPs surgeries for clinics”, Donnellon said, adding that “if you’re from rural areas or smaller towns that comes with it’s own set of issues”.

“We’re in a long battle against stigma, when people see there’s more people in different careers, races and genders with HIV it helps,” he said.

The more people who see people who live with HIV getting on with their lives, it will change stigma, it comes down to education in general.

“I’m still concerned about the rate, once the PrEP programme opens up, the more the better, but it will take time and education and social change, they’re all interlinked.”

Health Minister Simon Harris and Minister for Health Promotion Catherine Byrne have also marked Worlds AIDS Day today.

“This day provides us with a welcome opportunity to remember those who have been lost to AIDS-related illnesses and to remind ourselves of the need to keep focussing on what we can do to strengthen our efforts in the area of prevention and support for those living with HIV,” Byrne said. 

“Good sexual health and wellbeing is important for our overall physical and mental health, and especially so in our young people. Reducing stigma and supporting education and sexual health promotion is vital to ensure everyone enjoys positive sexual health outcomes,” she said.

Almost 10,000 people have been diagnosed with HIV in Ireland since the early 1980s.

The HSE has been contacted for comment.

With reporting by Hayley Halpin

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