New HIV diagnoses are on the rise in the Australian state of New South Wales (NSW), with 409 cases diagnosed in 2012 compared to 331 in 2011.
Annual increases were recorded among men and women, and across all age groups, except those aged under 20.
Most of the infections were among men who have sex with men but there was also an increase among heterosexuals with 56 diagnoses among heterosexuals in 2012 compared to 42 in 2011.
Health experts and community health groups are working with government to understand the increase in HIV infections.
‘While we’re still examining the data, what’s clear is that NSW’s remarkably long era of stability in HIV diagnoses is over,’ Kirby Institute epidemiologist Professor Andrew Grulich said.
‘Results from the last two years show that NSW is now experiencing similar HIV notification trends to most other comparable jurisdictions elsewhere in the world.
‘In terms of the 2012 increase, I think we could be seeing a range of factors at play including how gay men are perceiving risk and balancing that against pleasure, the impact of increased HIV testing, and the ongoing challenge of maintaining a safe sex culture after 30 years of HIV.’
The Kirby Institute at the University of NSW is named after retired openly gay Australian High Court judge Michael Kirby and is focused on sexual health and blood born infection research.
LGBT community health organization ACON, formerly known as the AIDS Council of NSW, believes new technologies such as 30 minute rapid testing for HIV had the potential to reign in the growth of new infections.
‘Recent medical and technological advances are redefining the way we can engage with the HIV epidemic and over the last 18 months ACON and our partner agencies have been working with the NSW Government to develop and implement a new strategy for responding to HIV,’ ACON CEO Nicholas Parkhill said.
‘The NSW HIV Strategy 2012-15: A New Era was launched in December last year and provides a detailed plan for significantly reducing HIV transmissions. In relation to gay men, the plan is fundamentally about getting gay men to test more, treat early and stay safe.
‘This new strategy places us in a much better position to respond to increases in HIV transmission. In fact, we anticipate further increases in new diagnoses over the next few years because improved access to testing – including rapid testing – will help identify the large number of undiagnosed HIV cases in NSW, estimated at between 2300 and 4800 cases.’
However Parkhill said condom use and maintaining a safe sex culture was still the cornerstone of Australia’s HIV prevention strategy because it remains the most effective way to prevent HIV transmissions.
‘Messaging about condom use will continue to be a key component of our prevention program and we will continue to develop new and innovative approaches to strengthen our response in relation to safe sex,’ Parkhill said.
‘We all have a part to play in ending HIV in NSW and ACON is working with people and groups throughout our community to ensure they remain aware of what they can do to help protect the health of themselves, their partners and our community – and that’s staying safe, testing more and treating early.’
ACON has launched a campaign to end new HIV infections in Australia by 2020 in response to a 2010 call by UNAIDS executive director Michel Sidibe for Australia to achieve that goal by that year during a visit to Sydney.
The NSW Health Department says over 16,000 have been diagnosed with HIV in NSW since the discovery of the virus with nearly 7,000 of those people having died.
‘Moves are underway to make HIV testing more accessible, faster, and convenient across NSW and I have already initiated action to remove barriers to treatment access via the Enhanced Medication Access Scheme,’ NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner said in launching the NSW HIV Strategy 2012-15 in December.
‘This is just the beginning of the work that needs to be conducted over the next three years to support prevention and increase HIV testing, treatment and care for people with HIV.’