There has been a 4 per cent increase in HIV transmissions from overseas-born men who have sex with men (MSM) in the first three months of the year, going against the declining overall trend, after a New South Wales report was released today.
In the period from January to March 2019, 35 overseas-born MSM were diagnosed with HIV, a 4 per cent increase compared to the average over the past five years.
Over the same period, only 17 were Australian born, for a total of 52 diagnoses, 22 per cent down on the average.
The majority of overseas-born infections came from Asian countries (33% in South-East Asia, 12% in North-East Asia) while the rest were from other areas including 8% each in North-West Europe and Southern and Central America, 6% in Southern and Central Asia and less than 5% in Sub-Saharan Africa.
The NSW HIV Strategy Data Report – Quarter One reported on the overall decline in HIV transmissions continuing the trend of recent years, but the issue of infections for overseas men is worrying.
AIDS Council of NSW (ACON) CEO Nicolas Parkhill said the overall downward trend demonstrates ongoing efforts to reduce HIV transmissions are working but more needs to be done to engage those that were not born in Australia.
“Unfortunately, we are not seeing a similar decline among gay men and MSM who are born overseas,” Parkhill said.
“This means we must continue our efforts to engage overseas-born gay men and MSM in HIV prevention, education and testing programs.
“Our new a[TEST] Chinese Clinic, operated in partnership with Sydney Sexual Health Centre, offers rapid HIV testing and sexual health screenings in Mandarin and is one of a number of services we are implementing to connect with gay men born overseas.
“We have also translated our HIV prevention resource Ending HIV into simplified Chinese, a Thai version is soon to be released, and we are delivering sexual health education workshops in Mandarin,” Parkhill said.
ACON is currently running a new peer education workshop designed specifically for Asian gay men. This program covers issues such as sexual health and HIV prevention, as well as identity, coming out, relationship and other issues to gay men and MSM from Asian cultural backgrounds.
ACON is also continuing to run regular meetings for Asian gay men that combines HIV and STI education with social activities. They have also developed peer education workshops for gay men and MSM from Arabic and Middle Eastern speaking backgrounds.
While HIV testing rates remain high in NSW, 27 (52 per cent) newly diagnosed MSM had not had a test in the past 12 months, and a further nine (17 per cent) had never had an HIV test prior to their diagnosis.
“While our communities continue to test often, there are still a number of people that are not getting tested for HIV or are delaying getting tested,” Parkhill said. “Testing is key to reducing HIV transmission in NSW because if people don’t know their HIV status, they can’t improve their health or take action to prevent transmission.
“We must ensure gay men and MSM continue to test more frequently, by providing a range of testing options, such as our popular rapid HIV testing service, a[TEST], and new testing technologies such as dried blood spot testing and home testing kits.”
“Getting tested is quick, free and convenient, and we commend gay men across NSW for taking action. Let’s keep up the momentum of staying safe, treating early and testing often,” Parkhill said.