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Sifting through the stats

It’s that time of year when all eyes turn to the Kirby Institute’s Annual Surveillance Report, detailing the latest insight’s into Australia’s sexual health. Whilst the report covers the gamut of sexually transmissible infections, here we’re focusing on the HIV stats.

As has been the pattern for a number of years now, Australia’s annual rates of HIV diagnoses hover around the thousand mark — 1,013 to be precise.

Drilling the total down state by state: NSW recorded 317 HIV diagnoses in 2016; Victoria 312; Queensland 195; WA 92; SA 42; NT 23; Tasmania 19; and ACT 13.

Of those 1,013, 70 percent of transmissions occurred primarily through male-to-male sexual contact, while heterosexual transmissions accounted for 21 percent of the total.

Based on CD4 cell counts, a third (33 percent) of 2016 diagnoses were recorded late — meaning transmission occurred more than four years before diagnosis.

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. And, of those on treatment, 93 percent had acquired an undetectable viral load (or 72 percent of all people living with HIV in Australia). Meaning, Australia is on the way to achieving the 2020 90-90-90 target.

HIV notifications recorded among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people reached 46 in 2016, an increase of 33 percent since 2012. Meanwhile, during the same period, rates of HIV among Australia’s non-Indigenous population have decreased by 22 percent.  

During the year, PrEP trials were rolled out in NSW, Victoria and Queensland. By the end of 2016, a total of 7,266 gay and bisexual men were on PrEP — equivalent to 6 percent of the estimated number of HIV-negative gay and bisexual males in Australia.

Among the take-home messages: HIV diagnoses have remained stable in Australia during the past five years. In that period, more gay and bisexual men have tested than ever before. Treatment coverage among people diagnosed with HIV has also increased considerably, with a corresponding increase in the number of people with HIV recording an undetectable viral load.

Although consistent condom use with casual partners among gay and bisexual men has declined over the past five years, more people are using non‑condom‑based prevention strategies, such as serosorting, strategic positioning, TasP and PrEP. Harm reduction strategies to minimise HIV transmission among people who inject drugs continue to be highly successful in Australia; as have strategies 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.

Overall, the latest Kirby findings highlight the need to maintain and strengthen successful strategies of health promotion, testing, treatment and risk reduction. The report also shows a need for greater PrEP access across Australia, and a strengthened focus on prevention in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population.

Read the full report here

BY CHRISTOPHER KELLY

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