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Jump in HIV notifications in Australia

Australia had a 10% increase in new HIV diagnoses in 2012 with a rise in the number young gay men contracting the virus
HIV rapid test
Photo by Marcello Casal JR/ABr

1250 people were diagnosed with HIV in Australia during 2012, with an alarming number gay men in their 20’s – suggesting they may not taking the virus seriously.

1250 people represents an increase of 10% compared to 2011’s figures.

The state of New South Wales (NSW) had a 24% increase during 2012, prompting NSW Health to release early data for the first half of 2013, showing an 8% decrease in new diagnoses compared to the same time last year.

However disturbingly the biggest age category for people to be diagnosed with HIV in NSW in the first half of 2013 was the 25-29 demographic, with 64 men diagnosed, while 37 men 20-24 also contracted the virus.

2012 also saw a jump in the numbers of gay men aged 20-29 being diagnosed with HIV.

The 2012 figures were released in the University of NSW Kirby Institute HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report.

‘The rate of HIV diagnosis per 100 000 population has increased from 4.3 in 2003 to 5.4 in 2012, a 26% increase,’ the report found.

‘The median age at HIV diagnosis among males declined to 36 years in 2012 after having remained stable at 37 and 38 years from 2004 to 2011.’

The decline in median age was a result of more younger people becoming infected compared to previous years.

However the 2013 NSW Health data did show a 5% increase in people getting tested for HIV as the NSW Government begins to roll out 30 minute rapid testing for HIV.

In the first six months of 2013 there were 225,615 laboratory HIV tests done in NSW, resulting in 179 new HIV diagnoses in the period.

LGBT community health group ACON (formerly the AIDS Council of NSW) CEO Nicolas Parkhill said the increase in testing was encouraging as having people test more often was a key part of strategy to end new transmissions in NSW by 2020.

‘Through our Ending HIV campaign, ACON is educating gay men about how increased testing for HIV will help us reach this goal by identifying the large number of undiagnosed HIV cases in NSW, estimated at between 2300 and 4800 cases,’ Parkhill.

‘Clearly it’s a numbers game and we won’t be able to achieve our goal of ending the HIV epidemic in NSW by the end of the decade unless we significantly increase testing rates among gay men.

‘However, increasing testing rates among gay men is not just about educating them about the need. HIV testing needs to be easy, accessible and culturally appropriate. We need to establish service models that adopt new technologies and that take testing out of the clinic and expand it into community settings.

‘We commend the NSW Government’s efforts in rolling out rapid HIV testing across NSW, as getting a test result in 30 minutes certainly encourages more people to get tested. But we need to innovate and look at new opportunities to increase testing to make any further impacts. We believe that the introduction of home-based testing will be crucial to achieving the scale of testing required.’

ACON believe having the ability for men who have sex with men to test themselves at home would result in a huge increase in people with HIV knowing their status and thus taking the precautions needed to stop the spread of the virus to others.

In the meantime Parkhill hopes people will visit ACON’s new a[TEST] facility in Surry Hills in Sydney where they can get tested for HIV in as little as 30 minutes.

‘One of the driving motivators to establish a community based testing model was to access people who have never tested, or perhaps have not tested in the last two or more years,’ Parkhill said.

‘Early data indicates that this is occurring with 23% of people who have accessed our a[TEST] service having never tested and 22% having not tested in the last two years. This is a very promising result that we would like to build on.’

‘We’re grateful for the support we have received from the NSW Government to operate this service and we look forward developing this approach further as part of our efforts to end HIV.’

While HIV diagnoses have increased in Australia, it still beats most developed countries when it comes to tackling HIV, with substantially higher prevalences in countries like the United States and Canada.

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