AIDS 2014: Australia’s response to HIV
Australia's Chief Medical Officer, Professor Chris Baggoley said Australia has made great progress in the response to HIV in the past thirty years but more could be done to cut transmission rates.
Baggoley was speaking at a plenary session at AIDS 2014. He said there were an estimated 26,800 people living with HIV in Australia with the vast majority of those being men who had sex with men (MSM).
According to Baggoley, Australia's HIV prevalence was 8 to 12 per cent among MSM, 2.1 per cent among people who inject drugs, 0.1 per cent among female sex workers, 0.15 percent in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population and with mother to child transmission very rare.
"Comparatively with the rest of the world this is a good result, however the rate of new diagnoses of HIV in Australia is increasing, and has been doing so for about 14 years," Professor Baggoley said.
"There were 1 236 cases of HIV infection newly diagnosed in Australia in 2013, similar to the number in 2012, and the highest rates we have seen since the early 1990s – almost 20 years ago.
While 70 per cent of new diagnoses in 2013 were attributed to sexual contact between men Baggoley said there had also been an increase in numbers of HIV transmission in heterosexuals. Almost 50 percent of the heterosexual diagnoses in 2013 were in migrant communities from high HIV-prevalence countries and their partners.
"The reality is that we are doing many things right in responding to HIV in this country, but that we are not doing everything right. We are at a crossroads. If we continue as before we could see our upward trend continuing. That is not an option."
Baggoley said Australia’s HIV strategy must tackle co-infections in order to be effective. "We understand in Australia that HIV is not addressed – cannot be addressed - in isolation from other blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections. That is why since 2010, Australia’s national strategies for HIV, hepatitis B, hepatitis C, sexually transmissible infections, and blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population have been brought together as a suite. This approach continues with the 2014 – 2017 strategies.”
Baggoley said for the first time the strategies contain agreed timeframes, goals and targets in the fight to end HIV. "These strategies set the direction for the Australian response to blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections until 2017,” Baggoley said. "For the first time they include concrete targets that will drive action and hold us to account.
Baggoley said Australia’s new HIV strategy has been developed at a time of unprecedented opportunity – new scientific advances in preventing and treating HIV - but also in the context of rising rates of HIV.
"However, while Australia has always been a world leader in responding to HIV and AIDS with consistently one of the lowest rates of HIV in the world, we recognise we need to intensify our efforts in prevention, testing, surveillance, research and evaluation and management, care and support for people affected by the disease.
“We clearly need to do something different to reverse the trend of increasing HIV rates.”