May 29, 2003
Australia's HIV infection rate is increasing, with the latest figures showing worrying trends in the nation's three most populous states. Last year, 700 Australians, mainly gay and bisexual men, were infected with HIV. Records show new HIV infections rose by 7 percent in Victoria and 20 percent in Queensland in 2002. Bill Whittaker, president of the top national AIDS body, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations, said final figures for New South Wales had not been confirmed but were understood to show an increase of between 3 percent and 8 percent. Tasmania also saw a small increase in its infection rates.
Whittaker said the overall rise in infections, together with the fact that Victoria has now recorded its third consecutive yearly increase, should set alarm bells ringing. "For some reason Victoria began this trend... now we've got two other states showing similar figures," he said. "These states make up almost 90 percent of the national HIV/AIDS caseload, so it's pretty hard to escape the fact that we've got a trend going on here."
The Australian figures reflect similar patterns overseas, with infections increasing in Canada, the United States and Europe.
It is difficult to pinpoint the reason for the infection rate increase, but Whittaker suggested as factors a rise in unsafe sex, declines in regular testing, and a flagging of the national effort against AIDS. An increasing viral load in the community, mainly because people with AIDS are living longer than ever before, has also been identified by HIV/AIDS analysts.
AFAO, which is pushing for a radical shake-up of the National AIDS Strategy, said the latest figures highlighted the urgent need for the federal government to act on the policy review it commissioned last year.