The continuing rise of HIV in Australia, a marked increase in infections among indigenous people and the global rise of HIV were hot topics at this year’s Australian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM), held in Cairns last week.

Outgoing ASHM president Andrew Grulich told Sydney Star Observer reports were given of increasing rates of new HIV infections in gay men in particular, from Australia, England, Canada and the USA, as well as news of the epidemics in Papua New Guinea and Indonesia.

Perhaps the one thing that marked this ASHM conference as being different from previous ones has been its international focus, he said.

Countries like Australia absolutely must get involved with the response in [the Asia-Pacific region]-¦The World Health Organisation has guidelines for the use of HIV drugs in developing countries: those countries are going to need a lot of help in training, and that’s where those organisations like ASHM have a really big role, Grulich said.

The rise of HIV in Australia in NSW, Queensland, Victoria and Western Australia also sparked calls for a revision of prevention campaigns after the release of two national surveys at the conference.

There was a 17 percent increase in the rate of newly acquired HIV infection in Australia, according to the 2003 report of the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research. Data presented in the annual report of behaviour from the National Centre in HIV Social Research also revealed an increase in unprotected anal intercourse with casual partners by men in Sydney, Brisbane and Melbourne.

The increase we saw in 2002 was the first significant increase since the mid-1980s, Grulich said. And the early data from early 2003 suggests things are still increasing, they’re not going down again. It doesn’t look like a blip, it does like an increase that we have to deal with.

 On the treatment front, things are still looking really promising with new drugs in the pipeline and certainly no sign of widespread failure of treatment, Grulich noted.

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