Significant increases in a range of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including in the gay community, have prompted a new campaign with an old theme: Use a condom.

That is the message to emerge from NSW Health’s Safe Sex. No Regrets campaign, launched this week, and follows international findings about the use of condoms in the fight against AIDS.

The NSW Health strategy includes television and print advertising.

Chlamydia infections in NSW tripled from 1999 to 2004, according to NSW Health figures, while cases of syphilis -“ predominantly affecting gay men -“ more than doubled.

HIV infections, which also mainly occurred among gay men, increased by some 10 percent from 1999 to 2003, with a rise in cases outside inner Sydney.

Dr Jeremy McAnulty, NSW Health’s director of communicable diseases, said the figures suggested condom use was at a less-than-ideal level.

We’re very concerned about this and we want to get the message out that condoms are an effective way of preventing these infections, McAnulty said.

There was also evidence condom use had slipped somewhat in the gay community, ACON chief executive Stevie Clayton said.

What that looks like is not gay men wholesale abandoning condoms, what it looks like is guys who occasionally don’t use a condom, Clayton said.

She hoped Safe Sex. No Regrets would reach new sections of the community.

Not all gay men necessarily read gay and lesbian community media and so there are a whole lot of those that we’re maybe not getting to, Clayton said.

The NSW Health campaign follows international findings that recommending condom use may be a more effective means of reducing AIDS rates than promoting abstinence or fidelity to one partner.

Researchers in Uganda found that condom use had a greater effect on AIDS prevention than the other two strategies, The Washington Post reported.

The yet-to-be-published findings contrast with the United States government’s international AIDS prevention strategy, which has abstinence and monogamy as key messages.

Meanwhile, abstinence as a strategy to prevent new infections may be incorporated into a national HIV/ AIDS policy due in Australia later this year.

The Age reported abstinence recommendations could form part of the National HIV/ AIDS and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategy, after possible intervention by federal Health minister, Tony Abbott.

That contrasts with the belief of some experts that abstinence, at least as a stand-alone prevention strategy, is out-of-step with community values.

All of the evidence -¦ is telling us that the community is unlikely to embrace abstinence as its main method of controlling STIs, Dr Roger Garsia, chair of the NSW Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS strategy, told Sydney Star Observer.

Those people who may have chosen to adopt abstinence as a strategy, eventually those people will usually become sexually active at a later stage, so it just defers risk, Garsia said.

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