Updated: September, 2014
ENDING HIV IS POSSIBLE
Ending HIV might sound like a bit of a pipedream. But it’s not. Here’s why:
Australia’s gay community engagement has been the frontline against HIV, from the community-led safe sex movement in the 1980s to gaining access to ARV treatments in the 1990s and the maintenance of safe sex culture ever since. In just over thirty years we’ve gone from diagnosis = death to diagnosis = manageable infection and for most, the prospect of a pretty normal lifespan.
HIV is no longer a death sentence, and we’ve had stable rates of new HIV infections in NSW for over a decade – that’s a big thumbs up for gay guys in NSW. But ‘stable’ means that around 250 gay guys a year still get HIV in this state. They don’t need to. We need to push transmission way down. We need to end HIV.
In 2013 we launched our biggest strike yet against HIV. In NSW, we now aim to bring new cases of HIV among gay guys to an end by 2020.
We’re not alone in this. It’s an international movement spearheaded by the 2011 UN Political Declaration on HIV/AIDS – to which Australia and all other UN member nations are signatories – aimed at achieving significant reductions in HIV transmission globally within this decade.
Australia was a leader in developing the UN declaration and NSW is the first Australian jurisdiction to formally incorporate the declaration’s goals within an HIV Strategy (NSW HIV Strategy 2012-15).
The Strategy commits to achieving an 80% reduction in HIV transmission in NSW by 2020 and to ensuring that 90% of those eligible are accessing treatment.
By the end of the decade we can be well on our way to ending HIV. It’s doable. So let’s do it. Let’s end HIV.
End HIV? Seriously?
More flexible testing options and better access to those options will help all gay men to test more frequently. With rapid HIV testing now provided in over 20 locations across NSW and home testing on the horizon, testing easier than ever before. It’s all about early detection, which allows you to look after yourself and your partners.
Early treatment is also critical. We now know that effective treatment can result in an undetectable viral load (UDVL), this means the levels of HIV in the blood are so reduced due to effective treatment, that they are not detectable.
This can dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission if sustained over a six month period. If HIV can be detected earlier in more gay men, and if those who need treatment can access it as soon as possible, we’ll dramatically reduce transmission rates and stop new cases of HIV. That’s a fact.
What’s new in the fight against HIV?
An HIV vaccine or cure is almost certainly still years away. Despite this, we’re in a better position than ever to end the epidemic. Rapid HIV testing is now available in over 20 locations across NSW and new research findings attest to both the health and prevention benefits of treatment. Also, since April 2014 you can start treatment as soon as you are diagnosed with HIV.
We know that treatment reduces the adverse health impacts of HIV and allows most guys to live a normal life. A growing number of studies – including the PARTNER Study, San Francisco’s Test and Treat program, and HIV Prevention Trials Network (HPTN) Study 052 in heterosexual couples – indicate that early treatment has a dramatic impact on HIV transmission rates at a community level. That’s crucial to ending HIV among gay men in NSW.
Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which is not available in Australia, is also on the horizon. PrEP is the use of treatments in negative guys to prevent transmission. It’s a new way of working to prevent HIV and it’s being tested now. iPrEx – an international study of PrEP in men who have sex with men, demonstrated a 44% reduction in transmission overall and over 90% (i.e. very similar to condoms) when participants maintained daily doing of their pills.
What needs to change?
If we can diagnose HIV early in men who don’t know they’ve been infected and offer them early treatment, we’re not only investing in their future health, but we’re drastically reducing the risk of transmission in the community. Many gay men do test regularly, but as a community we are still not testing enough.
All sexually active gay men need to get tested at least twice a year. If you have lots of sexual partners, scheduling quarterly tests or more each year is really important. In addition to your regular tests, you should get tested every time you think there’s a possibly you’ve been exposed to HIV, keeping in mind that an infection can take several weeks to show up in the test. To know more about testing, rapid HIV testing or to book an appointment, click here.
To know more about home testing, click here.
What else can I do to get on board?
We’re glad you asked, because we can’t end the epidemic without your support. It’s about NSW gay men joining forces to spread the word about more frequent testing and early treatment. Make a commitment to test more regularly. Talk to your doctor about treatments if you have HIV.
Join us on Facebook and don’t forget to tell your friends, partners and colleagues to take part. We’re committed to reaching our goal of ending HIV in NSW’s gay community and it starts with you.