The elimination rate of HIV is a reality | County Leader of St George and Sutherland
The adoption of early diagnosis, testing and treatment means that HIV transmission in New South Wales is well on its way to being eliminated. But concerns remain among certain target groups in the community.
The NSW HIV Strategy 2021-2025 aims to reduce the rate of preventable infection by 90%. The latest data shows that the target is realistic.
In the fourth quarter of 2021, a total of 36 NSW residents were newly diagnosed with HIV. This is a 51% decline from the fourth quarter average of the past five years.
Testing at public sexual health clinics has increased by 43%, less than pre-pandemic testing, but appears to be on the way to recovery.
Experts say the drop in HIV transmission has been driven by COVID-19 restrictions, which have led to fewer people getting together for casual sex.
There have also been more online and at-home test options available, including a free finger prick test (the Dried Blood Spot test) which is released by mail and the ATOMO self-test.
Sydney South East local health district sexual health director Phillip Read said the testing was a game-changer and had a huge impact in reducing new infections.
“The number of tests has increased dramatically over the past 12 years. Not only are we identifying as many HIV-positive people at risk, but also much earlier in the course of their disease,” Dr Read said.
In St George and Sutherland Shire, HIV diagnosis has fallen by more than 50% between 2017/18 and 2020/21.
“It’s really encouraging,” Dr Read said. “The biggest reduction was seen in Australian-born gay men. They’ve seen the messages, they speak English, they have access to Medicare.”
He said other groups within the community, including recent arrivals overseas and those from diverse cultural backgrounds, were still at risk.
“The absent groups are from linguistically diverse backgrounds, particularly foreign-born homosexuals and foreign-born heterosexuals who may come from a country where HIV or homosexuality is stigmatized,” said Dr. Read.
Areas not considered “heavily gay suburbs” outside Sydney’s CBD, he said, were also a focus, including under-25s.
“In areas such as our district, it is believed that there is a higher proportion of non-gay identified men who have sex with other men – they may be married, or not particularly connected to the gay scene. or feel part of the gay community,” Dr Read said.
He said that during previous lockdown periods, fewer people showed up for testing clinics.
“Many sexual health clinics were not working face-to-face due to attendance restrictions for staff who were seconded in COVID-19 work,” Dr Read said. “So there was a service issue, but there was also a reduction in the number of people getting together for casual sex, and the brothels had to close for a while.”
Although NSW Health is on track with its HIV reduction target, other sexually transmitted infections are also on the mind.
“Chlamydia, gonorrhea and syphilis are relatively common in the community,” Dr Read said. “Chlamydia is the most common STI, its diagnosis has remained stable, but we have noticed an increase in the diagnosis rate of gonorrhea in the last two years and syphilis in the last five years.”
In 2021-22, the NSW Government is investing $23.7 million in services to strengthen HIV testing, treatment and prevention, and for activities that will support the health and mental wellbeing of people living with HIV. blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted infections.
Short Street Centre, a specialist service providing management of STIs and HIV and are located on the grounds of St George’s Hospital.