Forty years since the first reported case of AIDS, health experts are urging communities to keep up the momentum in the fight against HIV, particularly in the wake of COVID pandemic, which has impacted the HIV response in NSW.
The latest data from NSW Health shows that from January to September 2021 in NSW, 106 men who have sex with men were diagnosed with HIV, a decrease of 34 per cent compared to the average for the last five years.
This large decline in HIV diagnoses suggests there was reduced transmission of HIV. However, it is likely that the decreases was also driven by the effects of the COVID pandemic such as restrictions on movement, modified health-seeking behaviour, lowered casual sex activity and reduced service capacity.
Nicolas Parkhill, CEO of ACON, NSW’s leading HIV prevention and support organisation said: “This year marks 40 years since AIDS was first reported. In that time, we have made remarkable progress in the fight against HIV.”
“But it’s important to remember that HIV is still here and there is still a long way to go – particularly in the light of COVID-19. The disruptions brought on by that pandemic has had a significant impact on our response to the HIV epidemic.
“As we learn to ‘live with COVID’, we must ensure our communities maintain high testing rates, continue to use HIV prevention methods such as PrEP and Undetectable Viral Load, and initiate treatment as soon as they are diagnosed with HIV.”
Parkhill said that in order to end HIV in NSW, we must also continue efforts to eliminate HIV stigma.
“While we continue to focus on HIV testing and getting people back on PrEP, what remains critical in our efforts to end HIV is addressing stigma and discrimination,” Parkhill said. “Stigma can have profound effects on people living with HIV and prevent those at-risk of infection from getting the support they need.”
Reflecting on the 40th anniversary since the first reported case of AIDS in the United States, Parkhill said: “In NSW in 2021, more people than ever before know their HIV status, and the use of PrEP among our communities is exceptional. The data is heading in the right direction, but we need to continue to engage everyone in this fight so that no groups are left behind.
“Today, we remember the millions of people around the world who have died of an AIDS-related illness in the last 40 years as well as those who cared for them. We pay tribute to the courage and resilience of people living with HIV in NSW and around the world, and convey our solidarity and support.
“Now is the time for us to work together to end HIV transmissions for all in our communities, and while there is some way to go, there is some truly remarkable progress being made in HIV research, prevention, and treatment.”