New South Wales Health has witnessed a rapid decline in new HIV infections, giving it reason to believe it’s possible to completely eliminate the spread of HIV by 2020.
The agency received the lowest number of new infections during the first six months of 2017 among bisexual and gay men. This is the lowest new diagnoses reported by the agency since the first case of HIV was reported in the 1980s.
According to Dr Kerry Chant, New South Wales’ chief health officer, there has been a steady fall in the number of new infections even though more people were undergoing HIV testing.
Dr Chant emphasised the importance of getting tested regularly as it improved chances of early diagnosis. With an early diagnosis a patient is placed on early treatment thus improving their health and preventing the virus from being transmitted to others.
Easier Testing and Accessibility
The agency has gone all out to make sure that people are diagnosed early by making the HIV testing process easier and accessible to as many people as possible.
NSW also initiates treatment for people who test positive as fast as possible. This effort is reflected in the declining number of new infections in the state.
NSW was the first state to allow a trial for free administration of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) a key drug in prevention of the virus. Currently there are over 6,700 people who are at high risk of getting HIV participating in the trial.
Use of PrEP in NSW was approved in June 2016 by the Therapeutic Goods Administration. The drug is given to people who do not have HIV but are at risk of contracting it, to reduce their risk of infection.
Unfortunately, those who are not participating in the trial may have to wait longer before they can access the drug as the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) has put off a decision to make PrEP available on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS).
PBAC says that the therapy is too expensive and they need further information on how the drug will be of benefit.
Testing and Use of Condom Also Important
The CEO of AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON), Nicholas Parkhill, recommends making PrEP easily available nationwide in order for the success rates in NSW to be replicated across the country.
Parkhill encouraged PBAC to keep working with manufacturers of PrEP and other stakeholders in order to forge a way forward that will see PrEP made accessible across the country.
Dr. Chant however, insists that while PrEP is important, combining it with other preventive measures such as condom usage and testing is also necessary.
The doctor said that NSW had shown that increased testing, improved care and treatment was what is necessary in the fight against new infections. This approach would be the best if the country wants to sustain the declining numbers of new infections and achieve complete elimination of the virus.
The agency has also observed that rates of new infection among people born overseas have remained stable calling for a different approach in dealing with this population.