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Here's why new HIV cases are at their lowest in Australia's biggest state

Unprecedented: the dramatic drop in new HIV diagnoses hasn't been seen in 30 years

Here's why new HIV cases are at their lowest in Australia's biggest state
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Sydney Gay and Lesbian Mardi Gras. | Photo: File

New HIV notifications have fallen by 39% in Australia’s biggest state. PrEP is only of one the reasons for the drop.

New South Wales has just recorded the lowest number of new diagnoses since the start of the epidemic in the 1980s

Only 101 gay and bisexual men were diagnosed in the first six months of 2017. The data was revealed today in NSW’s quarterly HIV Data Report.

‘The data demonstrates our continuing leadership in HIV prevention – we are experiencing one of the most rapid decreases in new HIV notifications among gay and bisexual men anywhere in the world,’ said NSW Health’s Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant.

The dramatic drop was the result of public campaigns to encourage more testing, improve treatment rates and provide access to preexposure prophylaxis (PrEP).

PrEP is a HIV prevention medical treatment which has a high efficacy rate.

‘In the first half of this year, 286,626 tests were performed across NSW – 33 per cent more than the same period in 2012,’ Chant said.

‘Early detection enables early treatment. This improves the health for people with HIV and prevents HIV from being passed on to others.

‘95% of people diagnosed in public clinics and private practices are on HIV treatment, and people newly diagnosed with HIV are starting treatment sooner than ever before.

‘Added to that, NSW is running the world’s largest PrEP trial, EPIC-NSW. So we’re fighting this battle on three fronts.’

Unprecedented results

The Kirby Institute is leading the EPIC NSW trial. Its director, Professor David Cooper, said it was the collaboration between agencies that helped achieve the results.

‘The dramatic reductions in HIV notifications we have achieved are unprecedented,’ he said.

But new diagnoses among people born overseas or heterosexual people have remained the same.

‘While testing rates are at an all-time high, more needs to be done to reach people at high risk of HIV who aren’t aware of their risk,’ Chant said.

With our powers combined

It was a combination of prevention, testing and treatment that lead to the drop.

‘We now have a more comprehensive range of evidence-based prevention technologies available to gay and bisexual men, the population group at most risk of HIV transmission, and that’s extremely exciting,’ said LGBTI sexual health organization ACON’s CEO, Nicolas Parkhill.

‘Not only does this include condoms and new biomedical tools such as PrEP, but also the advances in treatment for people living with HIV that see viral loads suppressed to an undetectable level, meaning that transmission is virtually impossible.

‘Gay and bisexual men in NSW have consistently shown that they’re committed to ending HIV and have adopted the use of these new technologies as soon as they have become accessible.

‘We still have a long way to go but we’re heading in the right direction.’

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