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International News

Death Toll Down, but AIDS Still a Major Australian Problem

October 4, 2002

According to the 2002 Annual Surveillance Report of the National Center in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research, the number of AIDS cases diagnosed in Australia was 178 last year, compared to a peak of 954 in 1994; and 97 Australians died from AIDS last year, compared to 2,790 in 1992. But more people have HIV than ever before -- 12,730 people at latest count; drug resistance is increasing; gay men are taking more calculated risks; and the epidemic is set to explode among Australia's closest neighbors. There has also been a slight but steady increase in the number of new HIV infections reported over the past three years.

"I think the bigger problems will be drug resistance and new infections due to people taking more risks," said Professor Ron Penny, the immunologist who diagnosed Australia's first reported AIDS case in 1982. The National Center in HIV Research's Annual Report on Behavior 2002, released in August, acknowledged rising levels of unprotected casual sex among gay men. In Sydney, Melbourne, Brisbane and Perth, the rate of unprotected anal sex almost doubled between 1996 and 2001. The report found more than a quarter of gay men in these states are having unprotected anal sex with casual partners.

Don Baxter, head of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, said recently that drug resistance, unprotected sex and a larger-than-ever viral pool in the community could fuel a second wave of the epidemic. He said fewer young people were being tested and more people were taking "treatment breaks" to recover from the toxic effects of their increasingly potent medication. Around three-quarters of people had developed drug resistance, he said.

AFAO said in its submission to the Commonwealth government on the Fourth National AIDS Strategy that Australia had failed in terms of containing new infection rates, and the falling death rate was in danger of reversing. "After 15 years of falling HIV infection rates, Australia has reached a plateau and does not seem to be able to make further progress in reducing new infection rates," it said.

Back to other CDC news for October 4, 2002

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Adapted from:
Australian Associated Press

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This article was provided by CDC National Prevention Information Network. It is a part of the publication CDC HIV/Hepatitis/STD/TB Prevention News Update.
See Also
More HIV Statistics on Australia