Australia has beaten AIDS but HIV continues to spread
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations this week declared that AIDS is no longer a public health issue in Australia. In contrast HIV remains a high concern, with no decline in the number of new HIV transmissions for the past decade.
At the peak of the AIDS epidemic in the early 1990s, about 1,000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in Australia every year. Advances in the effectiveness of HIV treatment and increased access to it has meant a huge decline in this number. There are now only a handful of AIDS-related deaths each year.
However, the progress made to end AIDS has not been mirrored by progress to combat HIV. HIV is not declining. More than 1,000 new HIV infections are diagnosed each year meaning that HIV prevention remains a public health challenge.
Although HIV testing in Australia is available for free or at very low cost, estimates suggests that around 15% of people living with HIV do not know they have it. And of those who have been diagnosed, only 85% are receiving treatment.
“The main challenge in Australia is stopping new HIV infections and making sure everyone knows their HIV status and, if they have it, gets treatment, because proper treatment reduces their chance of transmitting the virus by 95%,” according to Professor Sharon Lewin, the director of the Peter Doherty Institute for Infection and Immunity.
Every state and territory in Australia has signed up to the goal of ending new HIV infections by 2020. This can only be achieved with effective targeting of advocacy and resources at key affected populations who are more vulnerable to HIV infection.
“Getting to zero new HIV infections in Australia means redoubling our efforts with vulnerable communities including, women, non-community attached gay men and people from non-English speaking backgrounds. These people are most likely to be diagnosed and treated late,” says Cipri Martinez, President of the National Association of People Living with HIV Australia. He adds that young gay men and people who inject drugs are at the highest risk of HIV infection.