Regular testing is key to ‘virtually eliminating’ HIV transmission

With almost half of all people diagnosed with HIV in the late stage of infection, NSW Health is marking HIV Awareness Week by urging those at risk to be regularly tested.

During HIV Awareness Week (23-30 November) and in the lead up to World AIDS Day on 1 December, NSW Health is reminding people to test for HIV with various high quality HIV testing options now available.

In 2018-19, NSW Health is investing $21.9 million in services to strengthen HIV testing, treatment and prevention.

Mid North Coast Local Health District Manager of HIV and Related Programs Jenny Heslop said NSW is on track to achieving its goal of virtually eliminating HIV transmission by 2020, with a 23 per cent drop in the number of new diagnoses in NSW.

“We want to see this downward trend continue and urge anyone at risk of HIV to ensure they are regularly tested,” Ms Heslop said.

“Once a person is diagnosed, they can start treatment early, improve their health and prevent the virus from being passed on to others.”

From January to September 2018, 191 NSW residents presented with a newly diagnosed HIV infection compared with 249 during the same periods in 2013-2017, according to the NSW HIV Data Report.

“This reduction is due to more people seeking early testing and treatment, as well as the introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis for HIV (PrEP),” Ms Heslop said.

PrEP, the use of medications to prevent HIV in those at risk, is also used traditionally to treat the infection. It is available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme.

“The highly successful NSW Health EPIC-NSW trial made PrEP available to 9,414 people at risk of HIV from 1 March 2016 to 30 April 2018.”

The data also shows that in the first half of 2018 there were 42 per cent fewer Australian-born men having sex with men diagnosed with early stage HIV infection, compared to the same period over the past five years.

“HIV in overseas-born men who have sex with men as well as heterosexual men, is often diagnosed late, which can lead to avoidable HIV-related illness,” Ms Heslop said.

For information on HIV testing, visit www.health.nsw.gov.au/hiv-test