Australia has recorded the lowest number of new HIV diagnoses in a year since 2001.
Last year there were 835 HIV diagnoses across the country, which represents a decline of 23% over five years with the declines largely due to reductions in the number of HIV diagnoses that are reported as attributable to sex between men(MSM).
Over the past five years, HIV diagnoses have reduced by 30% among the MSM population.
Unfortunately, there has been no decline amongst the heterosexual population and no declines in HIV diagnoses among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations.
Professor Rebecca Guy who is head of the Kirby Institute’s Surveillance, Evaluation and Research Program said the results shown in the report are very encouraging.
“Although we’ve seen reductions in recent years in some Australian states, in 2018 we saw significant reductions at a national level.”
“The decline in HIV diagnoses is a result of the incredible commitment from government, healthcare, community and research sectors to eliminate HIV transmission in Australia,” continued Professor Guy.
“As a result of these partnerships, more people are being tested for HIV than ever, people living with HIV are starting treatment earlier, and we’re seeing a very promising uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) among gay and bisexual men.
“The combination of all these strategies has led to these reductions.”
PrEP is a pill that when taken daily by HIV negative people, prevents the transmission of HIV.
It can be prescribed by general practitioners and has been available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) since April 2018.
From April to December last year, an estimated 18,530 individuals commenced PBS-subsidised PrEP, according to a PrEP monitoring report also released by the Kirby Institute.
Head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute Professor Andrew Grulich has said the introduction of PrEP in Australia, on a background of high and increasing HIV testing and treatment, has turned the HIV epidemic in gay and bisexual men around in this country.
“Many gay and bisexual men have embraced PrEP as a way to protect themselves and their community from HIV. However, for declines to continue at this impressive rate, PrEP coverage needs to be significantly higher,” continued Professor Grulich.
“Targeted health promotion and the removal of any structural barriers are required to make PrEP more accessible, particularly among gay and bisexual men from culturally diverse backgrounds and in those living outside of the inner cities of Australia.
“With expanded PrEP access, and a continued focus on testing, treatment and condom promotion, we’ll continue to see these encouraging declines.”
Looking at the report detail it showed the HIV diagnosis rates rising over the last two quarters of last year but Professor Guy states that quarter figures can bounce around and there isn’t any evidence that the five-year trend of decline is changing.
The latest figures were released in the Kirby Institute’s National HIV Quarterly Report, a new report which provides a timely quarterly summary of the numbers of newly diagnosed cases of HIV notified to the National HIV Registry.
A more detailed analysis of the 2018 HIV notification data will be presented in November in the 2019 Annual Surveillance Report on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections.
“While this quarterly report provides a helpful snapshot of HIV numbers in Australia, we need to look to the full report for a more detailed analysis of the data and to develop a more complete understanding of these numbers and their implications, particularly among different populations,” said Professor Guy.