Rates of HIV diagnoses in Australian men rose nine percent in 2005, with Victoria reporting the largest increase of 17 percent, a national report has revealed.

NSW recorded a seven percent increase on the previous year, but the figures were similar to rates in 2002 and 2003. Queensland, however, had a 12 percent rise in diagnoses.

In the past five years national HIV diagnoses have gradually risen 41 percent.

The figures were revealed today in the national HIV/AIDS 2006Annual Surveillance Report at the conference of the Australian Society of HIV Medicine (ASHM) in Melbourne. The report was compiled by the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (NCHECR).

John Kaldor, deputy director of the National Centre, said while the rise was expected it was a matter of concern for all of us involved in the field of HIV.

There’s obviously work for us to do, he told Sydney Star Observer.

However, Kaldor said, it would be foolish to speculate what the magic fix is after 25 years of this epidemic.

More education was not the only answer, he said, considering the fact the average age of men diagnosed with HIV in 2005 was 35.

These are not men arriving on the scene and having their first experiences, he said.

Victorian figures from the last few months showed the state was in for an even larger rise in HIV diagnoses in 2006. Statistics released by the state Health department revealed there had been 198 HIV notifications between January and July this year, compared to 143 in the same period of 2005 and 129 in the first seven months of 2004.

The increase prompted the Victorian government to announce it would spend $2.7 million on HIV programs.

State Health minister Bronwyn Pike put the increase down to complacency about HIV. However, Mike Kennedy, executive director of the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), believed that wasn’t the case as gay men still considered HIV to be a big issue.

No one is able to answer the question of why NSW figures at the moment are looking relatively stable and the Victorian figures seem to be increasing, Kennedy said. But we think there’s a range of things that are happening here.

Gay men in Victoria were getting tested less often than men in NSW, he said, so some men mistakenly believed they were negative.

VAC would use the new government funding to launch a campaign about getting more regular tests for HIV and STIs.

The national figures showed there were 928 HIV diagnoses reported in Australia in 2005, compared to 849 in 2004 and 812 in 2003. In 2000 there were 656 cases.

Eighty-two percent of newly acquired HIV infections in Australia between 2001 and 2005 were via male homosexual sex.

According to state-based Periodic Surveys, around 20 percent of gay men had unprotected anal sex with casual partners in Sydney, Melbourne and Brisbane.

The rate of HIV diagnoses in women remained steady in 2005 with 92 cases recorded nationally.

An estimated 15,310 people were living with HIV in Australia at the end of 2005, including around 1,100 women.

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