HIV falls in 2013 but experts warn of possible rise as testing increases
Despite a reduction in HIV notifications, experts are warning of possible rises in coming years due to increased testing before rates fall again. Reg Domingo reports.
HIV rates have decreased in New South Wales, new statistics show.
Figures released by NSW Health on Thursday show the number of new diagnoses decreased by 13 per cent last year, with 357 new HIV cases compared to 409 in 2012.
HIV notifications among men who have sex with men decreased by 16 per cent and new cases among young people fell by31 per cent for those aged between 30 to 39 and 16 per cent for people aged 20 to 29.
But despite the reduction, experts are warning of possible rises in HIV notifications in coming years due to increased testing.
The NSW 2013 Annual HIV Data Report show HIV testing increased by 6.5 per cent last year, with 27,000 more HIV tests performed, rising to 447,000 compared to 420,000 in 2012.
Much of the increase occurred in Sydney’s inner city areas and in Western Sydney.
“It is very heartening to see so many more people being tested for HIV in 2013,” said NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner.
“However, as we make testing more accessible and continue to target at-risk groups, we should be prepared for the number of new diagnoses to rise in the short to medium term before it starts to fall again.
“Our investment in the NSW HIV Strategy has helped remove barriers to testing for high risk groups, made testing quicker and more accessible than ever and allowed quicker access to treatment.
“Early detection means early treatment, which we know improves the outcomes for individuals and is key to our aim of virtually eliminating the spread of HIV by 2020.”
ACON echoed the Health Minister’s sentiments, saying the data needs to be interpreted within the wider context of NSW’s strategy to end HIV transmissions by the end of the decade.
“Ending HIV transmission in NSW requires gay men to test more, treat early and stay safe, and ACON has been focussed on communicating this message to gay men through a range of initiatives including our now familiar 'Ending HIV' campaign,” said ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill.
“It’s important to note that to end HIV transmission, we need to detect virtually all cases of HIV, and this can only be done by getting more people tested. This means while HIV notification rates may vary year on year, modelling suggests that in the longer term we may see an increase in notifications due to increased testing. This same modelling suggests that any initial increase would be followed by a sustained decrease once most people with HIV are on treatment, as HIV medicines can now virtually eliminate the likelihood of transmission.
“The data shows that we’re starting to get results, especially in terms of getting more people tested. In particular, the availability of rapid testing has made a huge difference to how people can access testing, and this includes ACON’s a[TEST] services in Surry Hills and Newtown as well as the temporary service we operated on Oxford Street over the recent Mardi Gras period.”
“However, we’ve still got a long way to go, because we won’t reach our goal of ending HIV unless we continue to significantly scale up testing for gay men, support more people with HIV to treat early, and continue to get gay men to use condoms and practice safe sex.”
In its submission to the 7th National HIV Strategy draft, ACON is urging the Federal Government to ramp up its efforts in tackling HIV, calling for the approval of home-based HIV testing kits, for rapid HIV testing to be Medicare-funded, and for HIV medicines to be dispensed from community pharmacies rather than just from hospital pharmacies.