HIV remains stable but diagnoses at 20-year high
HIV rates remain stable in Australia but diagnosed cases are at a 20-year high, new data shows.
According to the Annual HIV Surveillance Report by the UNSW’s Kirby Institute, there were 1235 new cases of HIV in 2013 compared to 1253 infections in the previous year.
While the figures show HIV in Australia has remained stable, they are 70 per cent higher than in 1999 when diagnoses were at their lowest.
Victoria has the highest number of HIV notifications with a 16 per cent increase in 2013 with 365 cases up from 314 diagnoses in 2012.
A majority of HIV cases were among gay men and men who have sex with men, accounting for 70 per cent of new diagnoses, compared to 25 per cent for transmission among heterosexuals.
About 26,800 people are now living with a HIV diagnosis in Australia.
However, there are fears that one in seven people with HIV do not know they have the virus.
Around 30 per cent are diagnosed well after they should have started treatment to restore their damaged immune system.
Associate Professor David Wilson, one of the report’s authors said, it was important people know their HIV status so they reduce the risk of onward transmission and begin treatment to improve their health.
‘‘In some cases, people are living for several years without knowing they are HIV-positive,” Wilson said.
“This is a double concern: for their own health and that they could be passing the virus on to others.
‘‘If people wait a long time before getting diagnosed, or if they do not start treatment once diagnosed, it is not as easy to recover.’’
Of those living with HIV, around 60 per cent were on treatment that restores their immune system and reduces the risk of spreading the virus.
The data comes as another report indicated unprotected casual sex between men, which is on the rise, continued to be the main driver for HIV transmission.
The Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour by the UNSW’s Centre for Social Research in Health showed more than 35 per cent of men with casual partners reported having unprotected anal sex six months prior to the survey.
The rate was close to 60 per cent among HIV-positive men with casual partners.
The report also found that around 60 per cent of men get an HIV test, prompting renewed calls to remove barriers to testing and improve access to treatment.
Rob Lake, Executive Director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, said the report highlighted the importance of sustained commitment to increase HIV testing and reinforcing condom-use in the community.
“If we are to achieve the ambitious goal of ending HIV transmission by 2020, we need a concerted effort to re-engage gay men around condom use and improve access to medicines that help prevent HIV transmission,” Rob Lake said.
“Rapid and home testing for HIV are proving more and more popular and access to them needs to be expanded.
“We also need to keep the conversation about HIV prevention and stigma happening amongst gay men and the broader community.
“This has begun but we need support and action from government, health providers and our community to make it effective.”
Earlier this month, the Australian Government released the Seventh National HIV Strategy, which outlines measures aimed at addressing HIV transmission in the next three years. These include lifting the ban on HIV home testing kits and allowing HIV medicines to be dispensed at community pharmacies.
The surveillance report has been released at The Kirby Symposium, a satellite event of the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne (July 20-25).