The number of gay men having unsafe sex is on the rise, despite HIV infections stabilising, the NSW Health communicable diseases director has warned.
In launching the 2010-2013 National HIV Strategy in Manly last week, Dr Jeremy McAnulty said the number of HIV infections in NSW has remained stable, despite the increase in risky behaviour.
There were 327 new infections in 2009 — just four more than in 2008 — but McAnulty warned against complacency.
“NSW has so far avoided the resurgent HIV epidemics seen in many other countries over the last decade and has been recognised internationally for achieving a sustained, stable rate of HIV infection since 2000,” McAnulty said.
“Avoiding significant increases is good news, but our goal is to achieve a sustained reduction in HIV and there’s clearly still work to be done to get there.”
Last year gay men made up 72 percent of new infections compared to 75 percent in 2008, while 2009 saw an increase in the number of heterosexual women becoming infected.
However, McAnulty said, despite most gay men acting responsibly, those reporting unprotected sex with a casual partner had risen to 34.1 percent in 2009, compared to 29.7 percent in 2007.
The number of gay men seeking regular HIV testing dropped, with 66.1 percent getting tested in the last year compared to 72.3 percent in 2007.
“Gay men who have unsafe sex are at high risk of acquiring HIV,” McAnulty said. “It is essential that … gay men continue to use condoms with casual partners.”
He warned a rise in other STIs left people more vulnerable to HIV infection.
NSW Health is working with stakeholders including ACON and Positive Life NSW to address the findings.
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill welcomed the infection stabilisation, but believed better results could be achieved.
“Every case of HIV transmission is one too many and we’re focused on moving beyond stability to significantly reducing HIV transmission rates in NSW,” Parkhill said.
“More attention needs to be given to increasing the use of condoms as well as the rate of HIV and STI testing among gay men,” Parkhill said.
“We need to be more effective at promoting the message that knowing your HIV status allows you to protect your own health, the health of your sexual partners, and enables you to talk to your doctor about treatment options.”
ACON has a number of initiatives in the works, including the second stage of its Slip It On campaign — a code of conduct for users of sex-on-premises venues to complement the code of practice for venues — and will produce a new campaign to encourage testing for HIV and other STIs.