New HIV cases at their lowest in ten years

HIV test

The number of new HIV cases in Northern Ireland fell to 52 in 2019, the lowest number in ten years, according to a new report from Public Health Agency (PHA) published today.

The report shows there were 52 new HIV diagnoses in 2019 compared with 80 in 2018, and a decline of 49% from a peak of 102 new cases in 2015.

There were 27 new HIV diagnoses which occurred through heterosexual transmission, and 21 new cases amongst gay and bisexual men (GBM) in 2019. This is the first time in ten years that the heterosexual transmission rate was higher than in GBM, with HIV transmission in GBM having fallen by 42% since last year.

The decline in HIV transmission in GBM can be linked to the increase in combination prevention, including:

  • the use of condoms
  • pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP)
  • frequent HIV testing in a wide range of settings
  • starting antiretroviral therapy (ART) as soon as possible after diagnosis

Treatment is now so effective that 97% of people receiving ART have undetectable levels of virus, which means the risk of passing it on is significantly reduced.

HIV testing is vital for preventing HIV-related illness and death, and to achieve the goal of ending HIV transmission in the UK by 2030. Northern Ireland continues to meet two of the United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS (UNAIDS) 95-95-95 targets – however, there are opportunities to improve uptake of testing and support those testing positive to continue their treatment.

Dr Claire Neill, Public Health Doctor at the PHA, said: “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.

“However, further progress can only be achieved if we also address the inequalities in reducing HIV transmission that exist around sexuality, ethnicity and geography.

“The most common way of getting HIV in Northern Ireland is through sex with a person who is unaware of their HIV infection.

“You can help protect yourself from HIV by consistent and correct condom use with new and casual partners, and by using PrEP if appropriate or if your partner is on treatment and the virus is undetectable if they are living with HIV. Proper condom use can also stop you getting or transmitting other sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

“People can get tested through free tests available from sexual health clinics, GP surgeries, as well as using a self-testing kit.

“The stats published today cover the period before the current pandemic, so it is important to remember that while we are currently dealing with the challenge of COVID-19, HIV hasn’t disappeared, so it’s still important to continue the key steps to help reduce the risk of contracting or passing on HIV or another STI. Also remember that GUM clinics are still operating, so get tested if you have put yourself at risk.”

More information and data are available on -

Sexually transmitted infections | HSC Public Health Agency (