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HIV rates at a five-year low in Australian state

HIV rates at a five-year low in Australian state

The rate of new HIV diagnoses in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW) has dropped to the lowest number in five years.

NSW is the biggest state in Australia and whose capital city, Sydney, boasts one of the largest populations of gay men in the country.

The 2016 NSW Annual Data report shows 317 NSW residents were notified with HIV last year. This was despite a 21% in the number of HIV tests with the previous year.

NSW Chief Health officer, Dr Kerry Chant, said the latest figures were an encouraging sign of the progress being made toward the state’s ambitious goal of virtually eliminating HIV transmission by 2020.

‘The decline in new diagnoses in 2016, along with increased levels of HIV testing in high risk groups, suggests HIV may be declining,’ Dr Chant said.

‘It is timely… to remind people to get tested and seek treatment. We also advise people follow safe sex practices, using condoms to protect against HIV and other STIs, and to seek advice about PrEP medications if they are at high risk of HIV infection.’

PrEP the new way to beat HIV

Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is the use of antiretroviral drugs to prevent the infection in those at high risk of the virus.

Studies have shown PrEP is safe and very effective, offering up to 99% protection for homosexually active men and 94% protection for women, if taken every day.

In March last year, NSW launched the landmark trial, EPIC-NSW (Expanded PrEP Implementation in Community), becoming the first state in Australia to do so.

‘One year on, more than five thousand people at high risk of HIV infection are now being treated at 21 clinics across NSW,’ Dr Chant said.

‘And enrolment of high risk people is continuing.’

One of the interesting figures to come from the data was that gay men and men who have sex with men made up 259 of the total 317 new diagnoses. This is 8% less than the average annual new diagnoses count for these men over the 2010 to 2015 period.

The 2016 data also indicated earlier diagnosis through increased testing, greater reach and uptake of treatment, and the scale up of PrEP are all contributing to changing the prevention landscape in NSW.