The number of new HIV cases has reached an 18-year low in Australia, data released Wednesday revealed.
There were 835 Australians diagnosed with HIV in 2018, a figure that depicts a 23% decline in cases nationally in the past five years, according to the 2018 HIV Surveillance Report by the University of New South Wales’ Kirby Institute.
"The reduction is very encouraging,” Rebecca Guy, head of the institute’s research program, said in a press release. “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 diagnosis is a result of the incredible commitment from government, healthcare, community, and research sectors to eliminate HIV transmission in Australia.”
Guy went on to explain that the rate of reduction can be linked to more people being tested for HIV than ever before. HIV-positive individuals are also beginning treatment earlier, while HIV-negative men who have sex with other men are also increasingly using the daily HIV prevention drug, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
According to the latest Australian HIV data, we have seen the greatest declines in HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men, thanks in large part to significant and increasing uptake of PrEP. https://t.co/GkP6gpcUkJpic.twitter.com/txF9gdUXaE— Kirby Institute UNSW (@KirbyInstitute) July 4, 2019
The rate of reduction, however, is not equal across all Australian ethnicities, sexual orientations, and immigrant populations.
For men who have sex with men, the HIV diagnosis rate dropped by 30% over the past five years. For Australians who identify as straight, the nation’s Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, and men born overseas who have sex with other men — the infection rate has remained much the same.
Robert Mitchell, from the National Association of People With HIV/AIDS, said it was critical Australia keep an eye on equity.
"We welcome this encouraging news of a significant decline in HIV transmission. This indicates that Australia has the ability to virtually eliminate HIV transmission,” Michell stated. “Heightened focus must now be directed to ensuring that all people at risk of acquiring HIV in Australia have equitable access to prevention, are tested and if diagnosed, receive immediate treatment so that the gains made with gay men and men who have sex with men are replicated in other demographic groups.”
In the 2019 Budget, the Australian government committed $20 million AUD over three years to attempt to rectify the “disproportionate rates of blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.”
In 2018, the government also listed PrEP on the nation’s Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme — which cut the cost of the medicine for patients from over $2,000 each year to a maximum of $39.50 per script. Since its listing, an extra 18,000 Australians started taking the preventive drug.
"Access to PrEP will not only benefit gay and bisexual men,” Australian Health Minister Greg Hunt said in a statement. “But will also drive down rates of HIV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, migrant communities, and other population groups which have seen increased transmission rates over recent years.”
"The decision to list it is one of the most significant advancements in HIV transmission Australia has ever seen,” he added.