For the first time in five years, HIV rates in Australia have increased significantly, according to leading experts who warn that urgent action is needed to stop the spread of the virus. On October 17, statistics were released showing that the number of new diagnoses increased by 8 percent in 2011, and by 50 percent during the past 10 years.
David Wilson, the head of the Kirby Institute's surveillance and evaluation program for public health at the University of New South Wales, stated that NSW, Victoria, and the Australian Capital Territory had driven the increase. 'In these three states we have seen quite a significant rise in the last calendar year,' Wilson said. Victoria experienced the biggest increase, but more people in NSW were diagnosed as having HIV that they had contracted recently, as opposed to being diagnosed after the condition had progressed. Wilson said it was unusual for infectious diseases such as HIV to increase after it had been controlled. 'We thought we had at least reached a plateau about five years ago, but we have not,' he said. About 24,000 to 25,000 Australians live with diagnosed HIV, but up to 10,000 might not have been diagnosed, Wilson added. The most recent increase in the number of new HIV cases diagnosed—from 1,051 in 2010 to 1,137 in 2011— has been driven by increases among gay men, although there have been increases in other groups in the past 10 years.
Experts attending the Australasian HIV/AIDS Conference on October 17 will launch a plan, the Melbourne Declaration, in an attempt to stop the spread of the disease. The president of the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, Edwina Wright, stated the declaration included calls to remove restrictions on funding for medications for people in the early stages of the disease and to speed up the approval of antiretroviral drugs for the prevention of HIV in people exposed to it. Rob Lake, the executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, urged Australia to introduce rapid HIV testing, in which results are given within an hour, rather than a week, thus reducing the time people are unaware of their infection. However, the license for this test has not been granted yet.
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