Figures for newly diagnosed HIV infections in Ireland in 2002 were released
last week by the National Disease Surveillance Centre (1). There were 364
newly diagnosed HIV infections in Ireland in 2002, compared with 299 cases
diagnosed in 2001, representing an increase of 22%. This brings the total
cumulative number of HIV cases reported in Ireland to December 2002 to 3009.
Of the 364 cases diagnosed in 2002, 198 (54%) were female and 165 (45%)
were male. During 2002, over 80% of the diagnoses were in patients between
20 and 40 years of age (mean age 30.8 years).
Figure. Newly diagnosed HIV infections in Ireland among
heterosexuals, MSM, and IDUs (1995 to 2002). Source: NDSC.
During 2002, 63.5% (231/364) of newly diagnosed HIV infections had been
acquired heterosexually (Figure). Diagnosed HIV infections among heterosexuals
increased by 34% between 2001 and 2002. Since 1994, the number of infections
reported for the heterosexual category has increased each year and between
1994 and 2002, there was an increase of almost five-fold.
In the heterosexual category, 77% of the diagnoses during 2002 were born
in sub-Saharan Africa and 10% were born in Ireland. It is estimated that
by the end of 2002, 40 million people worldwide had been infected with HIV
and 70% of these were living in sub-Saharan Africa (2). The number of cases
of HIV infection diagnosed among people of sub-Saharan African origin is
not unexpected, considering that HIV is endemic in that region. People from
sub-Saharan Africa do not form a homogenous group and include students,
immigrant workers, refugees, economic migrants, asylum seekers and others
from many different countries and cultural backgrounds. These figures therefore
represent a challenge for planners and providers of HIV prevention and treatment
to deliver culturally appropriate services to such diverse groups of people.
There was a decrease in the number of diagnoses reported in the men who
have sex with men (MSM) category, from 73 in 2001 to 46 in 2002. This decrease
must be interpreted with caution as the numbers involved are small and it
remains to be seen whether this downward trend will be sustained in the
There was a 32% increase in the numbers of cases diagnosed in injecting
drug users (IDU), from 38 in 2001 to 50 in 2002. As with the decrease seen
in MSM cases, the numbers involved are small and the figures tend to fluctuate
from year to year (for example, between 2000 and 2001, there was a 54% increase
in the number of cases), and so these figures must be interpreted with caution.
There were 8 children, 7 of whom were born in sub-Saharan Africa, diagnosed
with HIV infection during 2002. In addition to these 8 children, there were
119 babies born to HIV infected mothers during 2002 whose infection status
is indeterminate (that is, they do not meet the criteria for HIV infection
and are <18 months of age at time of test or they were born to a HIV
infected mother but their antibody status is unknown). These figures highlight
the importance of the Antenatal HIV Screening Programme, introduced in Ireland
by the Department of Health and Children in 1999.