‘Snow blow’ behind increase in HIV diagnoses in Ireland

New HIV diagnoses in Ireland increased to the highest level on record in 2015 and they are linked to the use of a drug called ‘snow blow’.

HIV Ireland and the Ana Liffey Drug Project have come together on Irish Aids Day to launch a campaign highlighting the risk of HIV infection for people who inject ‘snow blow.’

Provisional data published by the HSE Health Protection Surveillance Centre (HPSC) shows that 491 people were newly diagnosed with HIV in 2015, a 30% rise on 2014. These figures are the highest on record.

For 2016, the upward trend in HIV diagnoses has continued. Provisional data shows that there were 231 new HIV diagnoses from the beginning of the year up to last month. There were 167 new diagnoses during the same period last year. The provisional data means there has been an increase of 38% compared with the first 22 weeks of 2015.

Tony Duffin, director of the Ana Liffey Drug Project, says that injecting ‘snow blow’ increases a drug user’s chance of contracting HIV.

“Depending on a person’s drug habit, a person who injects heroin may inject about four times a day; however, people who inject ‘snow blow’ may inject every two hours,” said Mr Duffin. “More injecting means more blood exposure and this means more risk.

“This makes someone more vulnerable to HIV, Hep C, death by overdose, abscesses, etc.”

Mr Duffin is calling on the Government to look at the draft legislation that has been prepared to give a legal framework for supervised injecting facilities.

“This increase in HIV in Dublin among people who inject drugs and who have multiple and complex needs further highlights the need for supervised injecting facilities,” said Mr Duffin.

“It is essential that the draft legislation in relation to supervised injecting facilities is debated, finalised and enacted as a matter of urgency if we are to save lives and taxpayers money.”

Niall Mulligan, executive director of HIV Ireland echoed Mr Duffin’s calls for government intervention.

“We must reverse this trend in new HIV diagnoses,” he said. “The Government needs to invest in the prevention of HIV including more access to free testing in a variety of settings and a sustained national HIV prevention and awareness campaign — and HIV prevention should be included as a priority action in the next National Drugs Strategy.”

To address the increasing incidences of HIV diagnoses HIV Ireland and the Ana Liffey Drug Project are providing harm-reduction and HIV-prevention information for people who inject drugs.

They will circulate this information online at www.drugs.ie, as well as through social media. Lord mayor of Dublin Críona Ní Dhálaigh launched the campaign and commended the work of the two bodies.

“I want to commend the Ana Liffey Drug Project and HIV Ireland for working together, sharing their expertise, and providing much-needed harm-reduction information to people who are more vulnerable to HIV,” said Ms Ní Dhálaigh.

“This targeted initiative is very much in line with Ireland’s Healthy Ireland framework for improved health and wellbeing to address the specific needs of at-risk groups to reduce health inequalities.”

Ana Liffey is a national addiction service and provided direct services to more than 2,914 clients in 2014.

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