New HIV diagnoses rose 8.2 percent in Australia last year, sparking fresh calls for new measures in the fight against HIV.
The latest annual surveillance figures from the Kirby Institute found new HIV diagnoses rose to 1,137 in 2011 from 1,051 in 2010. The majority of new diagnoses (66 percent) occurred through sexual contact between men.
The data also showed the annual number of new HIV diagnoses had steadily increased over the past 12 years from 719 in 1999.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive director Rob Lake said the fact the infection rate had remained over 1,000 diagnoses a year for five years indicated the need for change.
“While Australia can continue to be proud of its successful response over 30 years in limiting HIV, this increase is a call to action to reduce HIV infections in Australia,” Lake said.
“We know the tools we need, but the political will and policy action must to be there to change the number of HIV transmissions.”
Today, peak HIV bodies will release the Melbourne Declaration, a new call to action for the federal government to remove barriers to new HIV prevention strategies in order to meet United Nations targets to reduce annual domestic HIV infection rates by 50 percent by 2015.
It is backed by the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM), National Association of People living with HIV/AIDS (NAPWA), AFAO and research bodies.
The declaration has called for new HIV prevention strategies, including the introduction of rapid HIV testing, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), more accessible HIV treatments and removing criminal sanctions related to HIV transmission.
“The successful Australian response to HIV was built on a partnership between governments, community organisations, clinicians and researchers,” ASHM president Dr Edwina Wright said.
“We are once again joining forces to unite behind the clear priority actions outlined in the Declaration.”
NAPWA executive director Jo Watson said a cohesive approach was needed.
“Other developed countries have rapid testing, early treatments and more flexibility for doctors and patients in the prescribing of anti-retroviral drugs,” Watson said.
A spokesman for federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the Health and Ageing Department was investigating new approaches to reducing the number of new HIV diagnoses.
“While the number of new HIV diagnoses remains low, any increase in diagnoses is concerning,” he said.
“We will focus on increasing rates of testing and models for rapid point of care testing; adapting models of treatment as prevention and improving access to antiretroviral treatments.”
Australia signed the UN 2011 Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS last year.
“These UN targets are not just for developing countries; they equally apply to countries like Australia that have relatively small and contained HIV epidemics,” Lake said.
Victoria recorded the highest rate of new diagnoses in 2011, up to 5.7 last year per 100,000 population from 4.1 in 2003. South Australia, Tasmania, the Northern Territory and the Australian Capital Territory all reported increasing rates of new HIV diagnoses between 2002-2011.
New diagnoses in New South Wales declined between 2003-2011 while rates stabilised in Queensland and Western Australia.
Gay men also accounted for 83 percent of the 378 cases of newly acquired HIV, who were diagnosed within 12 months of infection. The proportion of newly acquired infections diagnosed rose in 2011 to 33.2 percent from 29.3 percent in 2010.
The 24th Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference is being held in Melbourne this week.