The number of people diagnosed with HIV in Ireland is rising amid concerns that ambivalence about the disease is putting increasing numbers of people at risk.
A record 512 cases of HIV were diagnosed in the State last year.
Rates have been rising steadily since 2011, with experts saying “complacency and risk-taking” among a younger generation is contributing to the rising numbers.
“This generation hasn’t grown up with the legacy or even the reality of HIV,” said HIV Ireland executive director, Niall Mulligan.
“It was a massive issue in the 1980s and we were aware of it. We were very scared and, thankfully, this is not the case now but I think we still need a greater level of education and awareness for this generation.”
“The treatment is so much better now than it was 15 or even 10 years ago. The medication available now has probably decreased the fear element somewhat, but I suppose it still doesn’t prepare people for the impact of being diagnosed with HIV, and the reality of the long-term impact on their lives.”
“I think there is a certain logic to the idea that the growing number of HIV diagnoses could be because of sexual activity such as chemsex [the consumption of drugs to facilitate sexual activity]. We are concerned about the growing culture of chemsex here in Ireland,” said Mr Mulligan. “Chemsex definitely is an issue and is certainly on the increase in Ireland.”
In the UK, unprotected sex and communal drug use at chemsex parties are partly to blame for the high levels of HIV infection – which has been at around 6,000 people a year since 2009 – as well as the growing epidemic of syphilis, gonorrhoea, and a new infection called lymphogranuloma venerium (LGV).
Along with the increase in HIV cases, there has been a dramatic rise in other sexually transmitted diseases (STIs) in Ireland in the past 12 months.
Dr Derek Freedman, a specialist in sexually-transmitted disease, told The Irish Times that as well as a growing culture of unprotected sex among the gay community, he has seen a rapid increase in the number of patients treated for other STIs.
“Certainly if you look at the number of people coming in with infections to be treated, it would appear chemsex and group sex parties are a problem,” said Dr Freedman.
“There has been an utter surge in cases of gonorrhoea, syphilis and with people coming to me with anxiety about HIV in the past 12 months. People became very afraid of HIV in the 1970s and the 1980s; people became very careful with their sexual activity. Infections like syphilis and gonorrhoea had virtually disappeared, but then fast forward 20-30 years and we are seeing an epidemic.”