HIV diagnoses in Australia is the lowest in almost 20 years due to increased prevention measures, earlier testing and treatment.
In an Australian first, we have now seen significant reductions in new HIV diagnoses recorded at the national level thanks to the commitment of governments, healthcare, community and research sector.
The Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney’s National HIV Quarterly notifications 2014–2018 report confirmed 835 HIV diagnoses across Australia in 2018 compared to 964 cases in 2017.
This represents a decline in new diagnoses of 23 per cent in the past five years and this is the lowest number of new diagnoses since 2001.
The largest decline in HIV diagnoses has been seen in men who have sex with men, which has declined by 30 per cent in the past five years.
This incredible result is also because of a strong uptake among gay and bisexual men of the daily HIV prevention medication pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which our Government listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) on 1 April 2018.
The $180 million listing of PrEP benefits up to 32,000 people who would otherwise pay $2,496 a year without the subsidy.
However the figures showed there were no declines in HIV diagnoses among heterosexual or in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations and we recognise that more work needs to be done to combat this health challenge.
The Government has also recently listed other new medicines on the PBS for the treatment of HIV including Juluca® (dolutegravir and rilpivirine) from 1 December 2018 and
Biktarvy® (bictegravir/emtricitabine/ tenofovir alafenamide) from 1 March 2019.
These medicines work to stop the replication of the HIV virus and would otherwise cost up to $10,800 without subsidy on the PBS.
These advances have been underpinned by the partnership approach between the Australian Government, state and territory governments, people living with and affected by HIV, community organisations, researchers and clinicians.
In the 2019 Budget, the Government announced an investment of $45.4 million including new funding to support the implementation of Australia’s National Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategies.
The aim of the strategies is to reduce the impact of blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections, including HIV.
The funding includes $20 million, over three years from 2019–20, to specifically address the disproportionate rates of BBV and STIs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities, including disproportionate rates of HIV.
This funding recognises the additional barriers and challenges which contribute to the impact of BBV and STIs on First Australians, and will be used to support a revitalised approach to prevention and treatment.
In addition, $5 million, over two years from 2019–20, will be provided to support national peak organisations in implementing the Strategies.
A part of this funding will be provided to HIV community-based organisations specifically for the implementation of the Eighth National HIV Strategy 2018–2022.
This Strategy is the roadmap to help further reduce new HIV infections, improve health outcomes for people living with HIV and eliminate HIV transmission in Australia by 2022.
These significant investments put Australia in reach of being one of the first countries in the world to virtually eliminate new HIV transmissions.