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HIV self-testing device becomes available as latest NSW HIV data is released

Photo: HIV self-testing device becomes available as latest NSW HIV data is released
The state’s leading HIV prevention and support organisation, ACON, has welcomed the release of the latest HIV surveillance figures for NSW showing a decline in HIV notifications in 2018. The data comes as a new HIV self-testing device becomes available on the Australian market.

According to the NSW HIV Quarter 4 and Annual 2018 data from NSW Health, the number of new HIV notifications is significantly down in 2018 (278) when compared to the five-year average of 335. This figure represents a 17 per cent decrease in new infections for 2018.

Among gay men and men who have sex with men (MSM), the number of new HIV diagnoses in Australian-born MSM in 2018 was 33 per cent less compared to the previous five-year average, while the number of new notifications in overseas-born MSM in 2018 was three per cent less.

“What’s clear from the 2018 data is that earlier diagnosis through increased testing, earlier uptake of treatment and the scale up of PrEP are all making an impact on our collective efforts to reduce HIV notifications in NSW,” said ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill. 
Despite the annual decrease overall, between October and December, there were 86 new HIV diagnoses – an increase compared to recent quarters. The increase was in both Australian and overseas-born men, particularly Australian-born men with evidence of early stage infection. However, of the 86 new HIV diagnoses, MSM made up 62 notifications. This is six per cent less than the average number of new diagnoses for gay men and MSM for the same quarter over the past five years.

“More data from upcoming quarters are needed to determine whether or not this increase continues, or whether the HIV rates revert to the levels seen earlier in 2018,” ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill said. “We’re extremely hopeful that the HIV transmission data will continue to trend downward.”

Thirty-nine per cent of overseas-born MSM diagnosed with HIV in 2018 had late or advanced stage disease, a 33 per cent increase compared to the previous five-year average. This may reflect better detection of long-standing infections as a result of increased HIV testing rates.

“Throughout 2018, ACON has been working hard to design, build and deliver responses to better engage overseas-born gay men and MSM, including the launch of a[TEST] Chinese Clinic,” Mr Parkhill said.

“We will continue to work with a range of partners to ensure gay men and MSM born overseas can access appropriate HIV prevention, testing and treatment messages and services.”

In commenting on the data, Mr Parkhill also reflected on the importance of having more HIV testing options including the new HIV self-testing device now available in Australia.

“HIV testing is key to ending HIV in NSW because if people don’t know their HIV status, they can’t improve their health or take action to prevent potential transmission,” Mr Parkhill said.

“Self-testing will help overcome key barriers some people experience when testing, such as fear of a positive result in the presence of a healthcare provider, avoiding screening due to privacy concerns or lack of access to sexual health services.

“Providing more options for people to take control of their health is critical to ensuring more people regularly test for HIV. Giving people the autonomy to test themselves in settings they feel comfortable in is an important step forward for the community and the broader goal of eliminating HIV transmission,” Mr Parkhill said.

“With a range of comprehensive evidence-based HIV prevention strategies available to gay men and MSM such as condoms, PrEP and Undetectable Viral Load, along with increased testing through current and new technologies, and greater reach and uptake of treatment, our communities will be able to continue contributing to efforts to virtually eliminate new HIV transmissions in NSW.

“We thank gay men and MSM in NSW – both HIV positive and HIV negative – for their ongoing commitment to ending HIV and encourage everyone to continue to continue to test often, treat early and stay safe,” Mr Parkhill said.

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