Australia has a very low rate of HIV infection compared to the rest of the world, but this fortunate state of affairs could change if complacency is allowed to set in.
As World Aids Day rolls around again on 1 December, it may be time to take stock of the HIV/Aids situation and to question whether we’re really doing enough to keep the virus at bay?
Although Australia – when compared to other parts of the globe – boasts low HIV prevalence rates, there is some cause for concern.
Recent prevalence surveys show that the disease is, in fact, at a 20-year high. This raises the alarm that, without continued political will, infection rates could continue to climb.
1 in 7 Australians not aware of positive status
Made public just ahead of the 20th International AIDS Conference held in Melbourne earlier this year, the Kirby Institute Annual Surveillance Report posits that HIV rates have been steadily rising in Australia since 1999, and that more than 26 800 people are now living with the virus.
While the report estimates that 1 in 7 Australians with HIV doesn’t know they’re infected, researchers are especially concerned about the fact that men who have sex with men (MSM) are a leading contributor to the rise in HIV rates.
‘’The younger men were not around in the early days of the Aids epidemic when there was a large fear campaign,’’ said associate Professor David Wilson in an ABC News interview.
“Innovative and concerted efforts are urgently needed to reduce a new wave of HIV infection particularly among young gay men,” co-author Dr Limin Mao added.
The country still has one of the highest uptakes of HIV testing among gay men and other men who have sex with men. However, late diagnosis remains a critical issue, as men who have sex with men accounted for more than 50% of all diagnoses of late or advanced HIV infection between 2002 and 2011.
Not all doom and gloom
Comparatively speaking, Australia remains a poster child for HIV/Aids awareness and management, especially when considering the staggering prevalence rates in other parts of the world, mainly in sub- Saharan Africa, where women continue to be disproportionately affected by the disease.
The Kirby report shows that by 31 December 2013, Australian men made up 90% of the estimated 26 800 people living with HIV/Aids. More accurately, the report stated that 24,109 men were HIV-positive, while women made up 2,832 of the total figure.
Of all HIV diagnoses made between 2009 and 2013:
- 67% of transmissions took place among MSM
- 25% were the result of heterosexual intercourse
- 2% could be attributed to injecting drug use
- 6% of transmissions were undetermined
Prof Wilson and his team cautioned that while these figures are a drop in the ocean when compared to countries like South Africa, where some 6 million people are living with HIV/Aids, complacency could easily reverse the success that Australia has had in keeping the HI virus at bay.
“If people wait a long time before getting diagnosed, or if they don’t start treatment once diagnosed, it isn’t as easy to recover,” Prof Wilson says.
Make every day World Aids Day
HIV can be prevented by staying informed and protecting yourself and others.
The steps are easy:
- Always practice safe sex.
- Get tested regularly.
- Avoid engaging in sex when you’re drunk.
- Learn how to use male and female condoms correctly.
- Don’t share needles if you’re an injecting drug user.
- Always carry condoms when travelling to high-risk countries.
- Stay faithful to one partner.
- Ask about post-exposure prophylaxis.
REMEMBER: You don’t have to wait for 1 December to wake up and take notice of HIV/Aids. Treat every day as if it’s World Aids Day and live safely.
– Kirby Institute Annual Surveillance Report
– Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations
– Getting To Zero: WAD
Image via Thinkstock
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