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Living with HIV in Northern Ireland

New statistics show that 934 people are now known to be living with HIV in Northern Ireland – the highest number ever on record.
Irish Times article

Number of New HIV Diagnoses in Northern Ireland (by gender) 2004-2015

Annual numbers of New HIV Diagnoses in Northern Ireland
(Source: Public Health England)

Eighty-one men and 22 women were diagnosed during 2015, bringing the total being treated for the virus which damages the immune system to almost three times what it was in 2006.

The 103 cases of HIV diagnosis last year is the highest number ever to be recorded in a single year. It is estimated that hundreds more do not know that they have HIV.

Detail Data has examined the newly released 2015 HIV surveillance data for the UK and, in a joint project with the dedicated HIV charity Positive Life, we tell the stories of five people living with the virus in Northern Ireland. They told us that they live with a condition still heavily affected by stigma and misunderstanding.

Of all the people currently living with HIV, the probable exposure category for 58% was sex between men. In 38% of cases, it was heterosexual contact. Less than 1% are thought to have been infected as a result of injecting drug use, although sex between men includes men who also reported injecting drug use.

Number of tests for HIV carried out at GUM clinics, by gender

Annual number of tests at Northern Ireland GUM clinics
Source: Public Health Agency

Jacquie Richardson, chief executive of Positive Life, said that a new Sexual Health Promotion Strategy and public information campaign is needed. The Assembly's& last strategy ran out in December last year. The charity has established an online petition calling for action.

“Positive Life are calling for and lobbying hard for a sexual health strategy because without it we don’t see any investment and we think it’s really, really important that money is put into education so that young people know how to look after themselves and know how to take charge of their own sexual health,” she said. “We also would like to see investment in public awareness raising and campaigns to challenge the old stigmas and the old perceptions of the 1980s and bring people right up to speed with HIV and what HIV means to people living with it in Northern Ireland. The fact that 103 more people have been diagnosed with HIV is very worrying and strengthens the argument that we need a new strategy. We need to raise awareness and encourage people to look after their own sexual health."

Dr Say Quah, Consultant in Genitourinary Medicine at the Royal Victoria Hospital in Belfast, backed the call for a new strategy.

Dr Quah said:

“Year on year, there is an increase in the number of people diagnosed with sexually transmitted infections such as HIV, syphilis and gonorrhoea. Poor sexual health is a significant burden on the wellbeing of people living in Northern Ireland. We have many health and social care organisations and volunteer sector organisations that can contribute greatly to improve sexual health care – but we need our Assembly to set a strategic direction so that services can be developed in tandem with health promotion with a common goal of collaboration between all stakeholders.”

To read the full story by Kathryn Torney click here

To access data around HIV testing and diagnosis in Northern Ireland click here

The story is accompanied by a photojournalism project by HIV survivors. Click here to view the photos and stories