The key to NSW HIV elimination is prevention, testing and treatment.
This HIV Awareness Week, and in the lead up to World AIDS Day, South Eastern Sydney Local Health District (SESLHD), is encouraging people across St George and Sutherland Shire at risk of HIV to get tested.
As NSW opens up, it is a good time for the community to speak to a healthcare professional about HIV testing and prevention options available to them, experts say.
NSW Health, Chief Health Officer, Kerry Chant said the state made great progress in the virtual elimination of the virus however testing rates are down from last year, driven by the restrictions of the COVID-19 pandemic.
"We've come a long way over the last 40 years and have many new tools to help prevent HIV transmission including effective HIV treatment, condoms, sterile injecting equipment, and prevention medication - PrEP," Dr Chant said.
"Early testing and diagnosis linked to treatment prevents transmission and enables people living with HIV to enjoy a long and healthy life."
From January to September 2021, 141 NSW residents were diagnosed with HIV, a decrease of 31 per cent compared to the average for the past five years. This decline was likely driven by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic and restricted movement, as people remained at home.
Josephine Lusk, the clinical director of the Short Street Sexual Health Centre, St George Hospital, said testing remains vital.
"As we start to open up, it is essential that at risk people get tested now. People can get tested easily and confidentially at their local GP or sexual health service. Online and home-based testing options include Dried Blood Spot test, a free finger prick test which is mailed to you, and ATOMO self-test kits will be available in pharmacies soon," Dr Lusk said.
The NSW HIV Strategy 2021-2025 aims to achieve a 90 per cent reduction in the rate of preventable HIV infection to achieve the virtual elimination of HIV transmission in NSW.
In 2021-22 the NSW Government is investing $23.7 million in services to strengthen HIV testing, treatment, and prevention.
The Federal Government also announced a new investment of $39 million to provide HIV treatment for people ineligible for Medicare, and $11 million for the continued work of peak HIV organisations. It re-confirmed a commitment to Agenda 2025, a plan developed to end HIV transmission by mid-decade.
It has been 40 years since the first reported case of AIDS in the US.
Data from NSW Health showed that from January to September 2021 in NSW, 106 men who have sex with men were diagnosed with HIV, a decrease of 34 per cent compared to the average for the last five years. This large decline in HIV diagnoses suggests there was reduced transmission of HIV. But it is likely that the decreases was also driven by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic such as restrictions on movement, modified health-seeking behaviour, lowered casual sex activity and reduced service capacity.
From mid-December, Australian pharmacies (starting inter-state initially) will also stock HIV self-tests, retailing at $25 each.
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