Positive Life NSW Blog

The HIV response in Australia – a poor report card in 2013

Posted by on in Advocacy and Policy

Just recently, I attended a press conference in Darwin where leaders of the Australian HIV sector provided a progress report on the Australian HIV response and the Melbourne Declaration 2012.

The report card was poor. We scored 21/40 or 53%.

There remains a lot more work to be done if we are going to eliminate HIV transmission in Australia by 2020. The Melbourne Declaration on HIV was publically released 12 months ago and was endorsed by all leading HIV community, professional and research organisations.

The declaration highlighted disturbing trends in Australia's HIV response, notably, rises of new HIV infections after many years of relative stability; an apparent decline in rates of HIV testing among those at high risk of HIV infection, particularly gay men; a decline in condom use; unacceptable delays in acquiring and being diagnosed with HIV; and unsatisfactory rates of HIV treatment uptake. The Declaration called for Australia's HIV response to be revitalised to take full advantage of game-changing scientific advances in HIV prevention and treatment which for the first time enable us to envision an ''AIDS free generation''.

The action areas and scores were: to substantially increase access to and uptake of voluntary HIV testing (6/10); enhance access to and uptake of antiretroviral treatment for HIV (5/10); make HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis available (6/10); and strengthen the partnership response and enabling environment (4/10).

So if that's the Australian report card, how's NSW doing? Well, we experienced a 27% increase in HIV notifications in 2012. 409 people were diagnosed with HIV in 2012 and data for 2013 suggest a similar pattern. All age groups had an increase in new diagnoses compared to 2011. The highest number was amongst people in their thirties. There were also relatively large increases amongst people in their twenties and people over 50. We think there may be between 2,000 – 2,500 people in NSW infected with HIV who don't yet know, so much more testing is needed.

When testing rates increase from the roll-out of rapid testing and other measures, rates of diagnosis will likely go up before they go down. This is a good thing – better to know than not know you have HIV. At the same time, we know that HIV treatment is effective, easier to take and reduces the risk of passing on HIV to others.

Yet, despite these significant advances, only maybe half of those with HIV in NSW are currently taking treatment. This needs to increase to 90% if we are to prevent people experiencing immune destruction and acquiring other serious diseases such as cardiovascular disease, neurological impairment and cancer.

The fact that people are still being diagnosed in hospital with AIDS in 2013 is unacceptable. If we are to eliminate HIV transmission by 2020, clearly a lot more needs to be done to increase the use of condoms, testing rates for at risk individuals and treatment uptake by those diagnosed with HIV. We all need to do better - the HIV sector, government and those at risk.

Also at http://gaynewsnetwork.com.au/viewpoint/a-poor-hiv-report-card-in-2013-12363.html

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