September 21, 2009
In recent years, new HIV diagnoses in Australia have plateaued at about 1,000 cases annually. In 2008, Australia recorded 995 new HIV diagnoses, a slight decline from 1,051 diagnoses in 2007, which experts attributed to a change in data collation. The Australia Annual Surveillance Report 2009 was released at the recent Australasian Sexual Health Conference 2009 in Brisbane.
"I wouldn't read too much into the small dip, the big point is we're still at very high levels," said Associate Professor David Wilson, head of the University of New South Wales' Surveillance and Evaluation Program for Public Health. "Over the last three years, we've had around 1,000 cases and that's much higher than where we were 10 years ago," he said. The recent annual average represents a 38 percent increase from 1999, when 718 cases were diagnosed.
Men who have sex with men accounted for 64 percent of diagnoses last year. The second-largest group contracted HIV through risky heterosexual activity, and the remainder of diagnoses were linked to IV drug use or were of undetermined cause.
"This last year is the first year in the last decade that we have not seen an increase, but some of that might be tied to slight changes in methodology," Wilson said.
In addition, AIDS cases have been dropping from a peak of about 1,000 annually in the early 1990s to about 240 a year since 2001. "That's fantastic and it's entirely due to the uptake of retrovirals," said Dr. Jonathan Anderson, president of the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine. However, too many people are still visiting clinics when they have advanced HIV infection, he warned. "I think we need to explore more the rate of undiagnosed HIV in our society; it's hard to change behavior but it's much easier for the health system to test more routinely for this."