27/02/2008

Shadow Of AIDS Cast Over Ireland

A massive 300% increase in the number of AIDS cases diagnosed in Northern Ireland each year over the past decade has been revealed - and levels in the Irish Republic are rising too.

Northern Ireland's Chief Medical Officer Dr Michael McBride said population mobillity was responsible for the huge rise.

He said there has been a 20% increase in cases of all sexually transmitted diseases over the last five years as well.

Meanwhile, new figures from Dublin also reveal a 21% increase in incidents of the potentially deadly condition in the first six months of 2007, according to the Irish Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC).

Unprotected sex between men and women accounted for the highest number of cases, followed by drug use and sexual contact among homosexuals.

The Dublin Aids Alliance (DAA) said the figures revealed the need for a national sexual health strategy.

"The rise in diagnosis of HIV is of serious concern and reinforces the fact that continuing awareness on HIV is needed," DAA's Executive Director Mary O'Shea said.

"HIV among the heterosexual population is rising.

"People need to be aware of the risks and take the necessary precautions.

"The figures show that more work is required in developing sexual health and prevention strategies nationally," she said.

The HPSC revealed 204 incidents of the potentially deadly condition were recorded in the first half of 2007 compared with 337 for the whole of 2006.

Of the 204 new cases the HPSC were able to tell the source of 150, with 53% caused by sexual contact between men and women, 21% between homosexuals and 23% among drug users.

More than 50% were men and 39% were women while the average age was 33 years.

Nationality was known in around 120 cases, with 42% born in sub-Saharan Africa and 40% in Ireland.

The majority of those who contracted the condition through heterosexual contact were of sub-Saharan origin.

In the 108 cases where geographic location was known, the majority of people - 78% - were living in Dublin, Wicklow or Kildare.

While the DAA welcomed the Irish Government's reduction in VAT for condoms outlined in the Finance Bill, it has come up with a series of recommendations to help raise awareness of the need for better sexual health.

These include the development of a National Sexual Health Strategy modelled on the National Drugs Strategy and for primary health care to be expanded.

(BMcC)

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