Every year on World AIDS Day we take the opportunity to reflect on our response to HIV, our successes and failures, and to take stock of how well we are meeting the challenge of responding to the epidemic.

This year, we have much cause for optimism. HIV infections in Victoria appear to have stabilised. This is good news for our community.

Of course, we always want the number to go down, and no HIV diagnosis is trivial for the individual concerned; the nearly 300 people who were diagnosed with HIV in the last 12 months will need our support, compassion and care in the years ahead. PLWHA Victoria will always be there to support positive people.

But we can take comfort in the fact that the HIV prevention efforts of community based organisations in Victoria are making a difference. With the support of the Victorian government, we have reversed an upward trend in new infections. The challenge we will face in coming years is building on that success and driving new infections down.

This year has seen the release of two pieces of groundbreaking HIV prevention research, both of which have the potential to significantly enhance our prevention efforts through the development of new biomedical techniques to prevent HIV transmission.

Taken together, the CAPRISA microbicide trial and the iPrEx pre-exposure prophylaxis study represent perhaps the most significant technological advancements in HIV since the development of combination antiretroviral treatments a decade and a half ago.

While it will be some years before this research leads to prevention technologies we can implement in our communities, I believe 2010 will be remembered as a milestone year in the history of HIV prevention, just as 1996 was for HIV treatments.

But we cannot wait for the development of these technologies, we must take action against HIV here and now. That is a key message from the theme of this year’s World AIDS Day: Take Action – No Discrimination.

Every HIV infection is preventable. Every HIV diagnosis is avoidable. PLWHA Victoria will continue to advocate for, and support, the HIV prevention efforts of our community partners.

While testing rates for HIV remain relatively high among affected communities, we know that a significant proportion of new infections come from individuals who do not know they are HIV positive. In 2008, the ‘Suck It and See’ study found that 20 percent of HIV-positive participants were not aware of their status.

If you don’t know you’re HIV positive, you cannot take steps to prevent HIV transmission, so our organisation is calling for a renewed effort to increase HIV testing rates and decrease the amount of undiagnosed HIV. We strongly support efforts to make rapid HIV testing available in Australia, provided that appropriate protocols are in place for pre and post-test counselling.

The message we want to send this World AIDS Day is a simple one: everyone has a role to play in the HIV response. If you’re sexually active, take action and get tested. If you’re HIV-positive, take action and get treated. And no matter your HIV status, know how to prevent HIV transmission, take action and help us end the HIV epidemic.

info: Paul Kidd is President of People Living with HIV/AIDS Victoria.

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