Australia has had the biggest jump in new HIV cases in two decades, leading experts to call for urgent action to tackle the disease.
David Wilson, program head at the University of NSW’s Kirby Institute, said more than 1250 people were newly diagnosed with HIV last year. NSW led the way with a 24 per cent increase, while Victoria was stable.
The 10 per cent increase nationwide in new HIV cases last year has hit young people particularly hard, with hundreds of people in their 20s diagnosed. HIV groups and infectious disease researchers say urgent action is needed to increase condom use, speed up access to new rapid HIV tests and ensure everyone who needs medications can access them.
“Traditionally, HIV has been diagnosed in the late 30s and early 40s but we are now seeing a trend away from that,” Mr Wilson said. ”These people were not around in the [’80s and] ’90s and didn’t experience the fear campaigns.”
However, figures provided exclusively to Fairfax Media covering the first half of this year show a high-profile campaign to reduce the disease, called Ending HIV, may be starting to have an effect.
NSW Chief Health Officer Kerry Chant said the second quarterly NSW report on new infections shows 179 diagnoses in NSW in the first half of this year, compared with 196 last year and 175 the year before. However, testing levels had also increased. ”These numbers could mean you are bringing in groups that haven’t engaged with testing before and that can be a positive thing,” Ms Chant said. ”But HIV is still present and it’s still at unacceptable levels.”
She said people needed to be tested as soon as possible after exposure, as that was when they were most infectious.
Australasian Society for HIV Medicine president Edwina Wright said that Australia was not doing a good enough job of putting in place key recommendations on reducing HIV transmission, including getting people on treatment early.
”A lot of people are on pensions and, in fact, aren’t able, at times, to afford their antiretroviral therapies,” Ms Wright said.
She said an application was before federal health authorities to subsidise medication for all people with HIV, not just those with progressed conditions.