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Ending HIV In Australia Starts To Show Positive Results

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Recent data from New South Wales (NSW) shows that new cases of HIV are in decline there for the first time in 5 years. This is being taken as a positive sign by the NSW community and LGBT organisations throughout Australia.

For the 2016 year, 317 people were diagnosed with HIV – 9% less than the average of the previous 6 years. The proportion of people that acquired HIV in the last 12 months (as indicated by CD4 count at diagnosis) was also down, according to the data.

Results from NSW also showed a 34% increase in the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) getting tested for HIV. Experience shows that high rates of testing among MSM is vital to reducing HIV transmission.

The number of people living with an undetectable viral load in NSW also increased in 2016. This is great news, as those people now have an incredibly low chance of passing on the virus through unprotected sex.

These results suggest the NSW HIV prevention strategy is heading in the right direction with its message of staying safe, testing often and treating early. ACON (the AIDS Council of NSW) believes the NSW-EPIC study is also likely to have influenced the 2016 results. The study provided PrEP (Pre-exposure Prophylaxis) to around 3,700 people considered at high risk of HIV between March and September.

While there are no current plans for studies on that scale in New Zealand, the NZ PrEP study has begun enrolment, to provide evidence for PrEP’s applicability here. Testing and continued use of condoms remain the front line in the fight against HIV in New Zealand.

2015 saw the highest number of new HIV diagnoses on record in New Zealand, with 224 new cases. 2016 figures are expected to show a further increase in new cases of HIV. Some of these will be due to higher rates of HIV testing, as gay and bi men adopt more regular testing behaviour. After an initial continuation of the upward pattern, however, the rates of new infections are anticipated to begin to decrease, similar to the experience of NSW. New Zealand data for 2016 is due to be released in May, and will give us the latest insight into how the HIV epidemic is progressing on this side of the Tasman.

Complacency and low rates of HIV testing are two of the main reasons HIV is on the rise in New Zealand. By educating ourselves and others to stay safe, testing often and treating early, we can expect to see similar results in NZ within the next two years.

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