HIV transmission in sharp decline, but more work needed

Australia’s HIV prevention effort is the strongest it has been in almost two decades, thanks to sustained emphasis on testing, treatment as prevention, and increased uptake of the HIV prevention medicine, PrEP.

Data released today by the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney shows there were 835 HIV diagnoses across Australia last year, the lowest number notified since 2001.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO, Darryl O’Donnell, said the decrease in transmission came against a backdrop of increased testing.

“Australia is now making profound and sustained progress against its HIV epidemic,” Mr O’Donnell said. “Among gay and bisexual men, the decrease in HIV transmission is especially impressive, falling 30 per cent over the past five years.

“Gay and bisexual men are increasingly using the prevention pill, PrEP, which is extremely effective in preventing HIV. However, they are also testing more frequently and in greater number. This means people are being diagnosed earlier and are quickly starting treatment to keep themselves well and suppress their viral load to prevent further transmission.

“The new prevention medicine, PrEP, coupled with easier testing and effective treatment are all helping to drive down HIV rates. These data show us what is possible, but we have a long way to go.

“Gay men continue to bear the burden of HIV in Australia, and there is a great deal of work needed to further drive down transmission. We can now see from these data what is possible and must build on that. Community-based programs are demonstrating powerfully their value in promoting uptake of prevention, testing and treatment.

“This data also shows we have a continuing challenge to prevent HIV transmission from heterosexual sex, which now make up 23 per cent of diagnoses.

“To make inroads, we need additional investment in focused public health campaigns and improved training of the HIV workforce.

“Similarly, there is no decline in HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations. The first step in making progress is to support communities with education on prevention and testing. This requires cultural sensitivity and significant investment in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health workforces.”

For media comment, please contact: Nick Lucchinelli on 0422 229 032

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