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Australia urged to do more on AIDS

Australia's largest LGBT community health organization says the country risks falling behind in its HIV response unless it adopts new technologies and approaches

Australia’s largest LGBT community health organization has warned that Australia’s once world leading approach to HIV prevention is slipping behind that of other countries

The assessment was contained in a position statement released by ACON (formerly the AIDS Council of New South Wales) on the eve of the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington DC which called on Australia to re-energize its domestic HIV prevention response following its commitment to the 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS which included new prevention targets aimed at achieving significant reduction in HIV transmissions by 2015.

Acting ACON CEO Geoff Honnor said Australia had had a contained epidemic in the state of New South Wales for 15 years with national HIV diagnoses stabilizing at around 1,000 new cases annually.

‘We can be proud of what we’ve achieved historically but we need to dramatically increase the scope and momentum of our engagement to achieve the substantial decline in HIV transmission that’s required,’ Honnor said.

‘We need to add new prevention approaches to achieve a different outcome. However, the Australian Government so far appears reluctant to fast track the introduction of a range of new and emerging HIV prevention technologies which have already proven successful overseas.’

‘Rapid HIV testing, which is available virtually everywhere else in the world, offers a quick, cheap and accessible means of dramatically improving access to testing … [but] a rapid HIV test is yet to be licensed for use in Australia.

‘The [US] FDA also recently approved existing HIV treatment Truvada for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, which involves HIV negative people taking HIV medication to greatly reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

Honnor said the US had made significant changes to its HIV treatment guidelines in recognition of research confirming that HIV therapy has a proven HIV transmission reduction benefit. However Australia was yet to follow suit.

‘Australia follows US treatment guidelines but a majority of the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine Panel … has declined to accept the updated US guidelines,’ Honnor said.

‘Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration maintains a closed, non-consultative application process in relation to new HIV related therapies and devices. It’s our understanding that there’s been one device under consideration now for almost a year.

‘Right now we have an unparalleled opportunity to achieve a dramatic reduction in HIV infections here in Australia, but in order to produce a dramatically different result we require radically different approaches.’

Speaking to Sydney’s SX magazine prior to her departure for the International AIDS Conference, Australia’s Health Minister, Tanya Plibersek said the conference would be a good opportunity to learn more about rapid testing and other recent developments in HIV prevention.

‘There are obviously proponents of rapid testing in Australia,’ Plibersek said.

‘We have pretty firmly established pathways for the introduction of new drugs and new technologies and rapid testing is going through the TGA process.’

Plibersek said the Federal Government remained committed to its 2011 United Nations Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS goals.

‘We still need to continue to work towards our target which is reducing the number of sexual transmission by 50 percent by 2015,’ she said.

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