Gay men in NSW testing more for HIV
Figures released by NSW Department of Health have revealed an increase of 33 percent in testing for HIV during the period from January to March 2014.
During this period an additional 8200 tests were performed with the majority of the new testees coming from inner city areas. Increased testing has resulted in diagnosis of 103 new cases of HIV in NSW. Of these new diagnoses, 87 cases were among gay or homosexually active men.
The Department of Health has identified 59 percent of the newly diagnosed were diagnosed early (close to the time of infection) a much higher proportion than chronicled in the previous five years.
ACON has welcomed the many early diagnoses, saying testing and early treatment are paramount if the community is to meet the goal of ending HIV by 2020.
Nicolas Parkhill, CEO of ACON commented: “What we have learnt from years of research is that knowing your HIV status enables and motivates most people to take action to prevent onward transmission, as well as seek assistance and support from health services”.
ACON says the high number of gay men utilising testing services was heartening.
“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. ACON thanks gay men, and other men who have sex with men, for mobilising around this call to action," Parkhill said.
“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 our community through a range of initiatives including our Ending HIV campaign.” added Parkhill.
While increased testing seems to indicate a rise in HIV infections, it’s possible the availability of rapid testing services and the increased numbers getting tested contributed to the higher rates of HIV transmission being recorded.
“The modelling suggests that with increased availability of testing in the community, in combination with the escalation of testing in sexual health clinics and GP settings, we may see an increase in notifications due to increased testing. This same modelling suggests that this 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,” Parkhill said.
Parkhill also stressed the safe-sex message still needed to be reinforced.
“Most gay men wear condoms most of the time when engaging with high risk sexual practices and they need to be congratulated for that. However, since 2007 we have seen a decrease from 71% to 65% in the number of gay men who use condoms with casual partners. Reinforcing safe sex messages is something that we will continue to prioritise.
“What is critical is that we need to see all the key indicators required to end HIV heading in the right direction – continuing to build a culture of safe sex, more testing and earlier treatment. Condoms remain central to our success in ending the epidemic in NSW.”