Wednesday, April 9, 2014
- A new awareness campaign is needed to highlight the risk of HIV, particularly amongst young gay men.
The number of HIV cases being diagnosed in Ireland is on the increase; most of those being diagnosed are gay and bisexual men, and they are being diagnosed at a younger age. A new awareness campaign on sexual health and HIV in particular is essential if we are to reverse this trend.
In 2013, 347 people were newly diagnosed with HIV; this was an increase of 1.8% from 2012, which itself showed an increase of 7% from the 319 people diagnosed in 2011. Among gay and bisexual men, diagnosis rates have increased by 160% between 2005 and 2012, from 60 to 161, now representing almost half of all new HIV cases.
The lack of awareness and lack of testing is leading to late diagnosis. In 10% of all HIV cases diagnosed, an AIDS defining illness was also diagnosed at the same time. Of these 34 cases with an AIDS diagnosis, 56% were in cases of heterosexual contact.
Current policies aren’t reducing HIV rates, and awareness surrounding the illness needs to improve. Many young gay men, for instance, simply were not around to witness the dramatic impact HIV and AIDS had during the 1980s and 90s. HIV and AIDS does not form part of their cultural awareness; they don’t view the disease as a credible threat.
When you consider that between 2005 and 2012 there has been a four-fold increase in the number of new diagnoses among those aged between 25-34, the need for a new awareness campaign is obvious. This shouldn’t, of course, be seen as just a ‘gay problem’. In 2012 there was a 12% increase in the number of heterosexual cases, going from 116 to 130.
Although HIV/AIDS no longer have the same immediate and devastating consequences as in the 1980s, they are still very serious conditions. As a society we cannot afford to let an increasing occurrence happen without taking measures to counteract it.
The new National Sexual Health will be the first time that a nationally co-ordinated approach has been developed to address sexual health and wellbeing and to reduce negative health outcomes, including in the specific area of HIV. The strategy is expected to be brought before Government over the next few months.
We need to make young people aware of the risks associated with their actions so that they can take informed decisions to protect themselves.