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08 Jul 2019

HIV diagnoses in Australia drop to lowest number in 18 years

Australia has recorded the lowest number of HIV diagnoses since 2001, a decline of 23 per cent over five years, according to the Kirby Institute’s National HIV Quarterly Report.

Last year there were 835 diagnoses across the country, a key driver of the national reduction is the 30 per cent decline of diagnoses among men who have sex with men.

Doherty Institute Director and eminent HIV researcher, Professor Sharon Lewin said the data in the Kirby Institute’s report was incredibly encouraging.

“What we are seeing are the benefits of implementing what we know works – an increase in testing rates for HIV, an increase in people living with HIV on effective treatment and an increase in use of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP),” Professor Lewin said.

PrEP is a pill that when taken by HIV-negative people, prevents the transmission of HIV and is available through the Pharmaceutical Benefit Scheme since April 2018.

Professor Rebecca Guy, head of the Kirby Institute’s Surveillance, Evaluation and Research Program said the decline in HIV diagnoses is a result of the incredible commitment from government, healthcare, community and research sectors to eliminate HIV transmission in Australia.

“As a result of these partnerships, more people are being tested for HIV than ever, people living with HIV are starting treatment earlier, and we’re seeing a very promising uptake of PrEP among gay and bisexual men. The combination of all these strategies has led to these reductions,” Professor Guy said.

The declines reported today are largely due to reductions in the number of HIV diagnoses that are reported as attributable to sex between men. Over the past five years, HIV diagnoses have reduced by 30% among this population. 

“While these reductions in diagnoses are really pleasing, we must not become complacent. Particularly as diagnoses in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations and heterosexuals have not gone down,” Professor Lewin said.

Associate Professor James Ward, who heads up the Infectious Diseases Research Program – Aboriginal Health at the South Australian Institute for Health and Medical Research, believes we need to do more to address these inequities. 

“We need targeted, culturally appropriate, community focussed campaigns to increase testing and treatment and PrEP and we need to focus on increasing awareness, both within the community and among healthcare providers,” Associate Professor Ward said.

Key stats:

  • 835 diagnoses in 2018, a decline of 23% over five years
  • Among men who have sex with men, HIV diagnoses have declined by 30%
  • No reductions in HIV diagnoses among heterosexuals or Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations
  • 41% of gay men at high risk of HIV were taking PrEP in 2017

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