The Health Service Executive has launched a sexual health awareness campaign to mark World Aids Day today.

It is hoped the campaign will help to combat sexually transmitted infections in Ireland.

New figures released by the Health Protection Surveillance Centre show 168 new HIV cases were reported for the first six months of 2010.

Director of the Dublin Aids Alliance Mary O'Shea said while the figures are down from the same period last year, people should not become complacent about HIV.

Such complacency among young people is causing a new surge of the AIDS epidemic in the United States and European nations like Britain and Germany, according to a top UN expert said ahead of World AIDS Day.

The worrying sexual behaviour of young adults, particularly men, in rich nations and a surge of the spread of AIDS in Eastern Europe and Central Asia linked to drug use, officials said, has tainted positive signs such as dramatic cut in the number of infections passed from mothers to their newborn babies.

Agencies including the UN's HIV/AIDS program UNAIDS cautiously highlighted a fall in the number of global infections in figures released ahead of World AIDS Day.

But Paul De Lay, Deputy Executive Director of UNAIDS, said: ‘There seem to be secondary and tertiary waves of the epidemic, particularly the sexually transmitted side.

‘You have a young people who don't know enough about AIDS, there is less of a fear factor about it.’

He said it was a particular problem in Britain, Germany and the US. Without giving specific figures, he said infection rates among young people are three times what they were in the early 2000s.