HIV infections have increased by almost five percent nationally since 2008, fuelled by a jump in heterosexual infections.

The Annual Surveillance Report on Bloodborne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections showed the number of new infections in men who have sex with men in NSW dropped around four percent.

However overall numbers for NSW were up from 323 to 327 due to an increase in heterosexual infections.

The University of Western Sydney data reported 1,050 new diagnoses nationally in 2009, a nearly five percent jump on 2008’s figure of 1001, but only two more than in 2007.

HIV diagnoses in Australia hit a high watermark of 2400 new cases in 1986, trending down to 1000 new infections in 1993 before stabilising at around 700 new cases a year through the late 1990s.

New infections have trended back up through this decade to around 1000 per year for the last few years.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) executive director Don Baxter said HIV infections would not trend down again until investment in prevention was increased.

“These figures indicate a plateau over the last three years and it is clear we will not start driving HIV infection rates down unless governments at both state and national levels increase their investments in prevention program,” he told Sydney Star Observer.

“We are operating at the minimum level of investment to maintain HIV infections at this unacceptable rate, but we should be aiming to drive the infection rate down.”

The report also indicated an increase in HIV acquired overseas.

“This is a further reminder to all Australians working or holidaying overseas to be vigilant in their sexual behaviour or if using drugs,” Baxter said.

He also warned that increases in injecting drug use in Indigenous communities threatened a blow out in HIV infections over the next five years unless effective programs could be put in place.

ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said the report showed HIV transmission rates in NSW had remained stable for 12 years.

“This result is due to a continuous investment in HIV prevention by the NSW Government … as well as the breadth and quality of the HIV prevention programs delivered in NSW through the partnership between organisations such as ACON,

NSW Health, Positive Life NSW, Area Health Services, GPs and other health care providers and research bodies,” he said.

However he was concerned by a slight increase in the number of gay men in Sydney reporting unprotected anal sex with casual partners.

“We need to work harder at reinforcing our safe sex messages and helping gay men understand that using condoms and water-based lube remains the most effective way to prevent HIV transmission,” Parkhill said.
Another concern was a dip in testing rates.

“We need to be more effective at promoting the message that testing and knowing your HIV status allows you to protect your health and the health of your sexual partners,” Parkhill said.

“An important aspect of this is ensuring that we make testing as accessible as possible for gay men and that’s why we’re advocating for the Commonwealth Government to introduce rapid testing technology, a service which has been available in many other countries for quite some time.”

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