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Many challenges remain to ending HIV in Australia

Many challenges remain to ending HIV in Australia

Dean Street - Red Ribbon

Even though there has been a major drop in new HIV cases in major Australian states, new research suggests there is a long way to go to end HIV.

Australia has committed to ending new HIV transmissions by 2020, but the Critical Steps Towards Addressing HIV research found it has a lot of work to do to achieve that goal.

It found that more than 50% of people living with HIV (PLHIV) felt the government’s focus on HIV has waned over the past five years.

Recommendation in the study included calling for a renewed national strategy to guide Australia’s HIV response. It outlined accountabilities and leadership between Federal, State, and Territory jurisdictions.

The Critical Steps study involved a Listening Tour of Australia. The tour included the perspectives PLHIV, healthcare professionals, public health officials and representatives of HIV peak organisations. Speaking to these stakeholder allowed researchers to get a unique view of the Australian response to HIV.

Barriers to testing and treatment

ViiV Healthcare Australia developed the research and found the reason many people who were diagnosed ‘late’ was because of ‘sub-optimal access to testing’.

30% of PLHIV in regional Australia felt that access to HIV testing was inadequate in those areas.

The report also found that stigma, discrimination and fear is deterring people from accessing care.

Almost 90% of people living with HIV surveyed reported experiencing discrimination in health services, the insurance industry (56%) and at places of employment or work (32%).

Australia could be one of the first countries to ‘virtually end transmission of HIV’, according to Assistant Professor Mark Bloch, President Elect, Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine.

‘We have come a long way in managing HIV,’ he said.

‘But, with these advances there is a potential for complacency or scaling back of effort, at a time when sustained effort is needed to fully address the impact of HIV.

‘We don’t want to look back in 30 years and realise we missed the opportunity to make history by eliminating new HIV transmissions.’

Federal Senator Dean Smith said the government has started the consultation for the country’s 8th National HIV Strategy. He spoke at the launch of the report at Parliament House in Canberra.

‘This report will be a valuable tool in contributing to that strategy as it reflects the first-hand perspectives and experiences of key HIV stakeholders,’ he said.

‘We can better address the challenges of the impact of HIV with insights from affected communities and harness that expertise.

‘We’ve made significant progress in controlling the spread of HIV and reducing morbidity and mortality rates, but more can and needs to be done.’