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By the numbers
The Kirby data is in and — while there’s plenty to be pleased about — there are some areas of concern.
New rates of HIV diagnoses in 2016 followed a familiar pattern, hovering around the thousand mark — 1,013 to be precise. That’s according to the Kirby Institute’s Annual Surveillance Report, which monitors Australia’s sexual health. Of those 1,013 positive diagnoses, 70 percent of transmissions (712) occurred primarily through male-to-male sexual contact, while heterosexual transmissions (209) accounted for 21%. Drilling the total down state by state: NSW recorded 317 HIV diagnoses; Victoria 312; Queensland 195; WA 92; SA 42; NT 23; Tasmania 19; and ACT 13.
Of the estimated 26,444 people living with HIV in Australia in 2016, 89 percent knew their status and — of those diagnosed — 86 percent were on treatment. Of those on treatment, 93 percent had acquired an undetectable viral load. Meaning, Australia is fast on its way to achieving the 90-90-90 target.
However, the Kirby report does throw up some concerns:
- Based on CD4 counts, a third (33 percent) of the diagnoses were recorded late — i.e. transmission occurred at least four years prior to testing.
- HIV notifications recorded among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people in 2016 reached 46. While the number is low, it represents an increase of 33 percent since 2012. (During the same period, rates of HIV among Australia’s non-Indigenous population decreased by 22 percent.)
- With PrEP trials rolling out in NSW, Victoria and Queensland, 2016 saw a total of 7,266 gay and bisexual men on PrEP — while that’s a forward step, it’s equivalent to just 6 percent of the estimated number of HIV-negative gay and bisexual males in Australia.
Among the better news contained in the Kirby report, harm reduction strategies to minimise HIV among people who inject drugs continue to be highly successful; as do biomedical interventions to minimise mother-to-baby transmissions. And the incidence of HIV notifications among Australia’s female sex workers also remains extremely low — among the lowest in the world.
So to summarise, HIV diagnoses in Australia remain stable. More men who have sex with men (MSM) are testing than ever before. Treatment coverage has increased considerably over the past five years, with a corresponding upswing in the number of positive people recording undetectable viral loads. And while consistent condom use among MSM has declined in recent years, more are embracing non‑condom‑based prevention strategies such as serosorting, strategic positioning, TasP and PrEP.
In a nutshell: the latest Kirby findings on HIV highlight the need to maintain successful strategies of testing, treatment and prevention. The report also shows a need for greater PrEP access and a strengthened focus on prevention programs targeting the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.