Taking Action on HIV
SYDNEY: On World AIDS Day this year, ACON President Mark Orr is urging our community to help end HIV.
Every year for the last 24 years, World AIDS Day has provided a valuable opportunity to reflect on the impact that HIV/AIDS has had on our community, both locally and globally.
This year, as we remember the past and honour those who have been lost to HIV, we also have a unique opportunity to look to the future, both in relation to people who are living with HIV and for our community more broadly.
That’s because recent medical and technological advances are redefining the way that governments, affected communities and the HIV sector can engage with the epidemic.
While condoms remain central to the fight against HIV – and the cornerstone of any effective response to HIV transmission – we now have, for the first time since the introduction of effective HIV combination therapy in the mid-1990s, a range of new approaches which, if adopted, can revolutionise the way we practice HIV prevention.
With effective implementation, and in combination with existing condom-based strategies and other behavioural interventions, these new approaches have the potential to significantly reduce NSW’s HIV notifications and put us within sight of the end of the epidemic.
These approaches include:
1. Substantially increasing access to and uptake of voluntary HIV testing in Australia.
One of the key ways of achieving this is by making rapid HIV testing widely available in a range of settings, not just clinical environments. Currently being trialled in NSW, rapid testing gives an HIV result is less than one hour. It’s quick, accessible, and will encourage regular testing, which is crucial to reducing transmission rates. The Therapeutic Goods Administration is yet to approve a rapid testing device for use in Australia and funding for the initiative is yet to be finalised. Another option for increasing testing rates is home-based HIV testing kits which have recently been approved for sale over the counter in the US. However, no such test is licensed for use in Australia and it is illegal to market or sell them here.
2. Enhancing access to and uptake of antiretroviral treatment for people with HIV.
HIV treatments have significant health benefits for people with HIV and can reduce their viral load to an undetectable level, significantly reducing the likelihood of them transmitting HIV. Currently it is estimated that only 70% of people with HIV in Australia are on treatment.
3. Making HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) available.
This approach involves HIV negative people taking HIV medication in order to protect themselves from infection. This is an extremely important development for pos-neg couples. While increasingly being adopted as a prevention strategy in the USA, PrEP is not yet available in Australia.
4. Educating gay men about non-condom based strategies which can be used to reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Condoms provide the best protection against HIV, and their effectiveness is demonstrated by the fact that the majority of gay men in NSW continue to use condoms most of the time. However, we know from a growing body of research that gay men also use a range of other strategies to reduce the risk of HIV for themselves and their partners. ACON recently launched a new interactive education campaign about risk reduction strategies called Know The Risk: www.knowtherisk.org.au
For our communities, the advent of these approaches allows us to start imagining a time when we can live and love without worrying about HIV transmission.
With the support of the NSW Government, and in collaboration with the NSW HIV partnership, ACON looks forward to combining these new approaches with other strategies which have proved effective over the last 30 years.
However, if we are to make any serious inroads, we need to improve our response not only here in NSW but on a national level.
Moreover, the Federal Government last year signed Australia up to the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS, which includes bold new prevention targets aimed at achieving a significant reduction in HIV transmissions in Australia – and globally – by 2015.
If we are to honour this commitment and help make HIV history, we need to get Australia’s HIV response back to best practice.
This is the message contained in the Melbourne Declaration, a call to action from Australia’s HIV sector that was released at the recent Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference.
The Declaration calls on all levels of government to work with community-based organisations, research centres and professional organisations to revolutionise Australia’s HIV response as soon as possible.
On World AIDS Day this year, join us in advocating for these measures as a way to honour the many friends, lovers, partners and family members taken from us all too soon by this devastating virus.
For more information about the Melbourne Declaration, visit www.melbournedeclaration.com
For more information about ACON’s World AIDS Day activities or to volunteer to sell red ribbons, please visit www.redribbonday.org.au