Aborigines in Perth are four times more likely than average to contract HIV -- and the infection rate rises to 12 times the average for those living in remote rural communities. This trend is mirrored in aboriginal communities worldwide. In Canada, aboriginal people now account for 17 percent of new cases.
Figures from a Western Australia (WA) Health Department report, to be released later this year, show that new cases of HIV among Aborigines and non-Aborigines were similar until 1993. The rate among Aborigines has shot past non-aborigines since 1994, while non-Aborigines cases decreased.
From 1994 to 2000 among Aborigines, the annual rate of new cases in the metropolitan area was four times higher than average. Outside Perth, the notification rate was 11.8 times higher. WA AIDS Council Executive Director Trish Langdon said that although Aborigines made up just 3 percent of the WA population, they accounted for up to seven of the fewer than 50 new cases diagnosed each year.
Some programs have been effectively targeting the issue. A "condom tree" in some areas, like Fitzroy Crossing, contributed to a reduction in STDs among Aborigines, many of whom gather under the shade of trees to socialize. When the condom program began, virtually no Aborigines were getting condoms from the two outlets in town; now the community's 3,500 people are using about 3,000 condoms a month. Education programs have also helped, but the social and cultural factors leading to a prevalence of multiple sex partners need to be better addressed.
Dr. Sandy Thompson, medical coordinator of the WA Health Department's sexual health and blood-borne virus program, said multiple agencies have become involved in HIV/AIDS treatment, prevention and care programs. "Considering the high rate of sexually transmitted diseases among the Aboriginal community, a lot of our focus has turned to improving Aboriginal sexual education programs and provisions of clinical services," Thompson said.
About 15,000 Australians carry the HIV infection, including 150 Aborigines.
Back to other CDC news for July 18, 2002