The National Association of People Living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA) has used World AIDS Day to call for Australia to commit to adopting new technology to fight HIV transmission, with the goal of eliminating transmission and new diagnoses before the end of the decade.

NAPWA president Robert Mitchell said 2011 marks a significant turning-point in the HIV epidemic.

“We now have compelling evidence that HIV treatments not only prolong lives but also reduces the chance of HIV transmission,” he said.

“NAPWA believes that by adopting a range of new technologies and by setting bold new targets in our National HIV Strategies, we can achieve virtual elimination of HIV transmission and AIDS diagnoses in Australia by 2018.”

Mitchell said that the strategies should include delivering new awareness campaigns targeting people with HIV and those at risk of HIV infection, particularly gay men; promoting HIV testing and making rapid HIV testing available; removing arbitrary restrictions on HIV treatments and addressing disincentives to HIV treatment uptake.

“The 30 years that has been marked since the discovery of the virus has brought us to a point where the development of effective HIV treatments have renewed many lives, and prevented many deaths. The shift for countries such as Australia, and their populations that can access modern treatments and advanced care is profound,” he said.

“The effect for many HIV positive people living in Australia is that their health and well being are improved, and the levels of AIDS related deaths and illness have dramatically diminished.

“New scientific understandings of both HIV treatment, and impacts on HIV prevention, have brought us to a new chapter in this story.”

Proposed Australian targets for HIV prevention include reducing sexual transmission of HIV among men who have sex with men (MSM) by 80% by 2015 and sustaining Australia’s exceptionally low rates of HIV transmission from injecting drug use, among sex workers and clients, and from mother to child transmission.

The organisation also proposes an aim of having 90% of people with HIV on antiretroviral treatment by 2013.

If these targets were reached, NAPWA believes Australia should come close to the elimination of HIV transmission and new AIDS diagnoses by 2015, and fully realise that goal by 2018.

NSW HIV/AIDS organisation ACON said this year’s World AIDS Day marks a turning point in the response to HIV with a range of new approaches emerging that offer the potential to achieve a significant reduction in HIV transmission, here and internationally.

ACON president Mark Orr said the effectiveness of NSW’s response is underlined by the fact that not one case of HIV transmission from a sex worker to a client has ever been recorded in NSW.

“This remarkable outcome is testament to the effectiveness of the current regulatory model for sex work in NSW as well as the quality of our overall HIV response achievement to date.”

Orr says while the work that has achieved low and stable HIV transmission rates in NSW is greatly valued, the goal now is a significant and sustained reduction in transmission, and that there are some promising new developments on the horizon that could get us there.

“Advances in biomedical methods of HIV prevention – such as vaccines, microbicides and pre-exposure prophylaxis – have an important role to play and we need to embrace the potential they offer,” he said.

“In the meantime, increasing testing rates and improving access to treatment are two things we can do right now to strengthen our response.”

The recent start of NSW’s first trial of rapid HIV testing – which delivers results within 30 minutes – was another of the important advances identified by ACON.

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