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PHA publishes new report revealing slight increase in HIV diagnosis in NI

A new report from the Public Health Agency (PHA) shows that there are 1,325 people in Northern Ireland living with HIV.

The ‘HIV surveillance in Northern Ireland 2022’ report also shows that 76 new cases of HIV were diagnosed here in 2021, a 12% increase from 68 in 2020.

Ahead of World AIDS Day (1 December) the PHA is encouraging everyone to practise safer sex and get tested early if they have put themselves at risk.

Dr Gillian Armstrong, Consultant in Health Protection at the PHA, said:

“HIV/AIDS is a viral infection caused by type 1 and type 2 HIV retroviruses. It can be transmitted through sexual contact, sharing of HIV-contaminated needles and syringes, and transmission from mother to child before, during, or shortly after birth.

“79,571 HIV tests were carried out in Northern Ireland during 2021 – a 21% increase from 65,906 tests in 2020.

“Of the 76 new cases of HIV which were diagnosed, thirty-one (41%) occurred through gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (GBMSM). Twenty-one (28%) new HIV diagnoses occurred through heterosexual transmission and fourteen (18%) new HIV diagnoses occurred through injecting drug use.

“Many people who are living with HIV have no obvious signs or symptoms. The only way of knowing if you have the virus is by taking a HIV test. It is important not to delay seeking advice and taking a test if you feel you have been at risk.”

A significant number of new HIV diagnoses – one third – were made at a late stage, which means that the virus may have already had a significant impact on their health and potentially on others. It is estimated that the majority of onward transmission is from those with undiagnosed HIV, so, it is really important for people to get tested early if they think they have put themselves at risk.

People with HIV have a near-normal life expectancy if diagnosed early and treated promptly. Once diagnosed, individuals are less likely to pass on their infection due to treatment and changing their behaviour. Of those on treatment in Northern Ireland, 97% had an undetectable viral load, and at this level a person living with HIV has effectively zero risk of sexually transmitting the virus to someone who does not have HIV.

Dr Armstrong continued:

“It is important to stress the importance of taking steps to reduce your likelihood of contracting the virus. If you have unprotected sex, you are putting yourself at risk of getting HIV and other sexually transmitted infections (STIs). “If you are sexually active, use condoms, limit your number of sexual partners and get tested quickly if you think you might be at risk.

“Men who have sex with menhaving unprotected sex with casual or new partners should be screened for HIV and other STIs at least annually, and every three months if changing partners regularly, due to the increased risk of infection. They should also consider the use of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) which can reduce an individual’s risk of getting HIV from sex. When taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective for preventing HIV.

“The Needle and Syringe Exchange Scheme (NSES) is vital to the health and wellbeing of the entire community and helps to reduce the potential of drug-related litter and lowers the risk of HIV and other blood borne viruses within the wider population. The service also puts clients in direct contact with a health professional who can help them engage with any treatment services they may require. The NSES is a free, confidential health service for people who inject drugs and are based in areas where there is an existing pattern of people who inject, in order to help protect everyone in the community.

“We are making great progress towards eliminating HIV transmission by 2030. Frequent HIV testing, the offer of PrEP to those most at risk of HIV, together with prompt treatment among those diagnosed, remains key to achieving this.”

The Chief Medical Officer Professor Sir Michael McBride said:

“It is clear that current HIV prevention methods are working and that we are making good progress in achieving our ambition to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030. However we are very conscious that we are not there yet and we still have to work to do to reduce new HIV infections.

“We know that when diagnosed early, people with HIV receiving treatment can live longer and healthier lives therefore frequent HIV testing remains vital. It’s equally important that we make sure people stay on that treatment to ensure the virus is fully suppressed and remains undetectable in blood tests.”

For information, the symptoms of HIV and STIs (as well as information on conditions which may have no symptoms), and for details of Northern Ireland GUM clinics, visit  and

You can also do a home self-test kit for HIV and STIs, which is completely free, discreet and confidential. Order your kit here:


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