2017 has crept up on us and the familiar comments like ‘I can’t believe it’s already June’ are no doubt already being shared at hairdressers and local drinking holes alike. The most recent NSW Health HIV data report, which provides a snapshot of HIV data from January to March this year, has been released and it’s captured some really interesting results!
So what does the HIV data say?
The number of new HIV diagnoses among gay and bisexual men has continued to fall, which is of course great news, however it is still too early for celebrations as more data is required to identify if this is the downward slope we have been working towards. But still great news!
Continued increases in HIV testing among priority populations suggest that HIV transmission in gay and bisexual men has declined. Earlier diagnosis through more frequent testing, higher HIV treatment coverage and the scale up of PrEP should all be contributing to preventing HIV transmission.
A key challenge we have is decreasing the number of diagnoses of men who have an advanced stage of HIV infection, as this population has not declined. This indicates that there is still a number of undiagnosed HIV positive guys in our community who need to be linked to testing and HIV support. On top of decreasing the gap between infection and diagnosis, we also need to continue to focus on reducing the time between diagnosis and commencement of treatment.
Since the last report the number of guys accessing PrEP in NSW has increased significantly through the ongoing EPIC-NSW Study, and with 70% of gay and bisexual men using evidence-based HIV prevention methods like condoms and PrEP, this is an encouraging result. However, almost one-quarter of new diagnoses among gay and bisexual men in the first quarter of 2017 had evidence of infection within 3 months of diagnosis, emphasising the importance of further increasing access of PrEP to people at high risk of HIV.
While this report has presented us with a distinct mix of positive results and challenges, it calls us to educate those about existing HIV prevention tools and provide better access to the communities that need them most. Together we can end the HIV epidemic in NSW if we continue to stay safe, test often and treat HIV.