The Centre for Social Research in Health at the University of New South Wales released new research showing that a record 92 per cent of gay and bisexual men living with HIV are achieving an undetectable viral load (UVL).

A record high for the third year running, this is the latest statistic reflecting the effectiveness of treatment as prevention (TasP).

HIV-positive gay and bisexual men who have a UVL have been shown to be unable to transmit HIV to a sexual partner in what activists have labeled U=U, meaning undetectable = untransmittable.

Co-founder of The Institute of Many Nic Holas welcomed the latest figures.

“This is such welcome and exciting news: gay and bisexual men in Australia have hit the 90 per cent global targets for getting onto treatment and being undetectable,” Holas said.

“Now, we need two things: for all people living with HIV to do the same; and for everyone (HIV-positive and HIV-negative) to learn, accept, and believe that U=U.

“We need to radically shift the outdated ideas about HIV/AIDS in this country. Stigma and ignorance is still killing us.”

The Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour 2018 released today coincides with the Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference underway in Sydney.

The report also found that the proportion of gay men with casual partners using PrEP has increased from one per cent in 2013 to 16 per cent in 2017.

Gay Community Periodic Surveys Project Leader Professor Martin Holt attributed the increase to access granted by state-funded PrEP programs in NSW, Victoria and Queensland in 2016.

“PrEP and treatment as prevention (TasP) are becoming increasingly popular HIV prevention strategies used by gay and bisexual men, particularly those well connected to the urban gay community networks,” Holt said.

“Now that PrEP is available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the challenge is to achieve greater prevention coverage of all people at risk of HIV, including those who are Medicare-ineligible, in order to achieve targets for the elimination of HIV transmission.”

The report also found that over 40 per cent of non-HIV-positive gay men had at least three tests within the preceding year – equating to around one test every 4 months, on average.

More than half of gay and bisexual men reported comprehensive STI testing, while nearly a quarter reported an STI diagnosis in the previous 12 months.

Over 60 per cent of HIV-positive gay men were attending HIV-related clinical visits on a quarterly basis, while two-in-five HIV-positive men reported an STI diagnosis in the 12 months prior to the survey’s data collection.

“Increased reliance on effective biomedical prevention strategies by both HIV-positive and HIV-negative men have brought successes in driving HIV notifications down,” said the report’s lead author, Associate Professor Limin Mao.

“This also brings challenges to our health system to take a more holistic approach to a range of priority populations across different settings.”

Associate Professor at CSHR Christy Newman said that the continued improvements among gay and bisexual men were not being reflected in marginal communities, which has been shown in previously released data.

“Many populations have been less well engaged by existing approaches to HIV prevention, including straight-identified men who have sex with men, people from migrant or refugee backgrounds, women, and adolescents and young people,” Newman said.

“We now have an opportunity to think more creatively about overcoming the stigma and taking alternative approaches to better serve beyond urban communities of gay and bisexual men.”

Recent statistics have shown HIV transmission rates at a record low in Victoria

The full report is available online at the CSRH website.

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