BY ANI LAMONT & ANDIE NOONAN

A continued drop in HIV figures in Victoria has led to the stabilising of the national rate.
Figures to be released tomorrow at the Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference will show that the national rate of new HIV infections has levelled off with 995 new cases reported in 2008, compared with 1051 in 2007.
From 1999 to 2006 Victoria’s HIV infection rate doubled from 2.8 to 5.5 new infections per 100,000 of the population. That figure has plateaued at 5.3 in 07/08.
AFAO executive officer Don Baxter said it was a positive sign and one which should encourage states like Queensland to increase prevention funding.
“The fact that Victoria did re-invest in the program in 2006, has now had an impact in the community in Victoria — and that’s where most of the decrease has happened, among gay men in Victoria,” Baxter told the Star.
“Queensland’s rate is about the same, which suggests it needs to do the same re-investment on the same scale.”
Victorian AIDS Council executive officer Mike Kennedy told the Star he was heartened to see a decrease in new notifications among gay men in the state, although this was offset by an increase in notification among the heterosexual community.
According to the latest Victorian Department of Human Services figures, there were 261 new HIV cases in the state in 2008, slightly down on 263 in 2007, and a slight rise on 259 in 2006. The number of notifications among gay men dropped by 10.
“From our point of view,  we’re happy we’ve seen a decrease in gay men, but we still have rates that are higher than they were in the last decade and that means there is more we can do,” Kennedy said.
“The question we now need to turn our mind to is how do we drive those numbers down even further.”
Figures show rates of syphilis in Victoria have also dropped — good news as the state remains in a syphilis epidemic.
“We’re particularly happy we’ve seen a decrease in syphilis cases, but the same thing applies — people still need to be tested regularly,” Kennedy said.
Current VAC-led HIV and STI prevention campaigns are set to continue for the rest of the year and into 2010.
“What we want achieving though is rates of infection actually going downward, not just going along at the same level,” Baxter said.

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