Over the past two years new HIV infections among Irish men who have sex with men have increased at an alarming rate in Ireland, with almost two new diagnoses every day in the first six months of 2016.
So, how do we tackle what is fast becoming a new epidemic, and what went wrong to get us to this point?
Recent headlines about rising HIV rates in Ireland, and indeed across the globe, may have come as a shock to the general public but the news is nothing new to the country’s sexual health campaigners
Those headline-grabbing statistics released by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) in October show that there were 273 HIV diagnoses in the rst six months of 2016. This compares to 283 in the latter half of 2015 and 203 in the rst half of that year.
Of those 273 new diagnoses, 222 were male and 129 of those were men who have sex with men (MSM). This group comprises gay and bisexual men but also MSM who engage in same-sex sexual encounters but don’t identify as gay or bisexual. And, somewhat surprisingly, the median age of those newly diagnosed was 35.
Anecdotal evidence would suggest that older MSMs – specically ones who came of age or lived through the terrifying ‘Aids Kills’ public health campaigns of the 1980s and early ’90s – are often the most diligent about maintaining their sexual health.
This has led to the unfair, not to mention factually incorrect, impression that it’s chemsex-having, app-cruising, feckless young men who are responsible for the increase in new HIV infections.
As the recent statistics show, this is simply not the case.
The sharp increase in new HIV diagnoses isn’t just limited to Ireland. In February of this year, America’s CDC (Centre for Disease Control) released a report stating that if current diagnosis rates continue, one in two African American MSMs will be diagnosed with HIV in their lifetimes.
The report, which analysed data from 2009 to 2013 of HIV and mortality rates among different risk groups, also found that one in four Latino MSMs and one in 11 white MSMs will also be diagnosed.
Figures released by Public Health England, also released in February, revealed that one in twenty MSMs across the UK are HIV positive, with that figure rising to one in 11 in London.
It’s clear that HIV rates are increasing in some places (though it must be pointed out that overall, HIV rates are down). But why?
The popularity of ‘hook-up’ apps like Grindr or Scruff are often cited as a potential contributing factor, though scant evidence exists to support this.
A recent Unicef report about HIV among adolescents in Asia and the Pacific suggested that, based on anecdotal evidence, an increase of casual sex with multiple partners found through apps like Grindr (or the Chinese equivalent Blued) might be partly responsible for the one-in-eight new HIV infections amongst young people/adolescents.
Keep reading to see how the interpretation of HIV statistics can change their meaning.