New HIV diagnosis in Australia hit eighteen year low

The number of new diagnosis of HIV in Australia has hit an 18 year low, the success largely attributed to uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) treatment.

There’s still lots of work to be done though to reach the goal of no new transmissions by 2020, and rates amongst indigenous Australians and hetrosexual people are not improving.

Over the last five years the number of new diagnosis of HIV has dropped by 30%, largely due to the uptake of PrEP treatment. The daily pill which has a 99% effectiveness rate in stopping transmission of HIV was first made available to Australians through a series of trials and is now available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).

In 2018 835 Australians were diagnosed with HIV, the lowest number since 2001.

“The reduction is very encouraging,” said Professor Rebecca Guy, head of the Kirby Institute’s Surveillance, Evaluation and Research Program.

“Although we’ve seen reductions in recent years in some Australian states, in 2018 we saw significant reductions at a national level.

“The decline in HIV diagnoses is a result of the incredible commitment from government, healthcare, community and research sectors to eliminate HIV transmission in Australia,” continued Professor Guy. “As a result of these partnerships, more people are being tested for HIV than ever, people living with HIV are starting treatment earlier, and we’re seeing a very promising uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among gay and bisexual men. The combination of all these strategies has led to these reductions.”

Since PrEP treatment was made available on the PBS in April 2018 its estimated that 18,530 people have started taking the once a day medication.

While the rates of HIV diagnosis amongst gay and bisexual men are dropping, there has been no improvement among heterosexual people and indigenous Australians.

Associate Professor James Ward, who heads up the Infectious Diseases Research Program – Aboriginal Health at the South Australian Institute for Health and Medical Research, believes we need to do more to address these inequities.

“We need targeted, culturally appropriate, community focussed campaigns to increase testing and treatment and PrEP and we need to focus on increasing awareness, both within the community and among healthcare providers,” said Associate Professor Ward.

Darryl O’Donnell, the CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) welcomed the figures saying it was clear that governments across the country needed to invest more into HIV prevention programs to make further gains.

“These data give us a glimpse of what is possible with renewed determination and effort. Australia has every opportunity to drive HIV to very low levels and to lead the world in doing so. This will require determination and investment by governments to fully realise the gains that are possible.”

Robert Mitchell, the spokesperson for the National Association of People With HIV/AIDS (NAPWHA) said that it was important the successful results achieved with gay and bisexual men were replicated within other target groups.

“NAPWHA welcomes this encouraging news of a significant decline in HIV transmissions and this indicates that Australia has the ability to virtually eliminate HIV transmissions.

“Heightened focus must now be directed to ensuring that all people at risk of acquiring HIV in Australia have equitable access to prevention, are tested and if diagnosed, receive immediate treatment so that the gains made with gay men and men who have sex with men are replicated in other demographic groups.” Mitchell said.

OIP Staff

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