New figures released by the Kirby Institute from its 2015 Annual Surveillance Report indicate that in 2014, HIV diagnoses in Australia remained stable, following a sharp rise in 2012.
Australia is however on target to meet global treatment targets, which are important for the health of people with HIV and for ongoing prevention efforts.
The data on treatment for people with HIV indicates a strong uptake of HIV treatment medications, and a high proportion of people maintaining an “undetectable” viral load.
An undetectable viral load has been proven to bring long-term health benefits for people with HIV, and to substantially prevent onward transmission of HIV. This is what is often referred to as “treatment as prevention”.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations executive director, Rob Lake, says, “High rates of treatment access are likely to reduce HIV infections in the future.
“However, if we are to meet the Australian target to virtually eradicate HIV transmission in Australia by 2020, more action is needed from us all – communities, governments, researchers and clinicians.
“Regular HIV testing is crucial to timely diagnosis, which in turn enables people to take advantage of treatment as soon as possible after infection. Unfortunately, over a quarter of people diagnosed with HIV in Australia are diagnosed late.
“We need access to all the prevention tools that work. While condoms work for most people most of the time, it’s important to have options available that best suit individual circumstances,” Lake says.
A prevention tool not yet available in Australia is “PrEP” – pre-exposure prophylaxis. This is where an HIV-negative person is prescribed HIV antiretroviral drugs to reduce the risk of HIV infection before sex.
AFAO President, Dr Bridget Haire, says, “PREP works, and several studies have shown it works well. The use of HIV antiretroviral medications as PREP has not yet been approved by Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration.
“An application is in and AFAO looks forward to timely approval by the TGA. Our community needs to be able to utilise this proven HIV prevention tool ASAP.”
The Australian HIV Conference, to be held in Brisbane next week – Wednesday to Friday – will help debate and shape the next steps required for Australia to intensify its prevention efforts and achieve its HIV prevention and treatment targets.
Rob Lake said, “National data is important, but HIV is more than just statistics. HIV affects people, their partners and families directly.
“HIV treatments bring great improvements in health, but people live with HIV for their whole lives. That experience can bring with it discrimination, silence and secrecy.
“HIV-related stigma can isolate people from community engagement and recent research tells us in Australia most people keep their HIV a secret at work. Stigma and discrimination persist in Australia for people with HIV, in many contexts.
“There is an ongoing need for community-led campaigns to challenge and address the stigma and discrimination still experiences by people with HIV at work, in the community – and in health care services.”