HIV rates decrease sharply for NZ’s heterosexuals

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The latest HIV figures from the AIDS Epidemiology Group at the University of Otago have shown a sharp decline in HIV diagnoses for heterosexual New Zealanders but the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF) has warned that the news is not all good.

Shaun Robinson, the newly appointed NZAF Executive Director says Only 35 of the 149 new diagnoses of HIV last year were heterosexual, compared with a record high of 87 cases in 2006. Thats great news for heterosexual New Zealanders and it should be a cause for celebration.

Far from celebrating though, Shaun Robinson has grave concerns about the statistics for New Zealands gay and bisexual men. This epidemic has never been worse in New Zealand for gay and bisexual men. In addition to the 90 gay and bisexual men who are shown to have contracted HIV in 2010, there are another 15 men for whom the method of HIV transmission is unknown. Its very likely that most of them will be gay or bisexual men, which means that this will be the worst year on record for our gay mens communities. The previous peak in infections was 93 in 2008. Not even in the early days of AIDS in the 1980s were rates of infection this bad in New Zealand.

HIV testing will remain critical if New Zealand is to control the HIV epidemic. A large proportion of the gay and bisexual men were not diagnosed with HIV until their infection was past the point when treatment should have begun. These men may have had HIV and been sexually active for a long time before they were diagnosed which means they missed out on treatment and they were also likely to be more infectious, states Robinson. This situation could have been avoided by regular HIV testing which is both free and easy.

The best estimate of the number of people living with HIV in New Zealand in 2010 is 1800. The majority of these will be gay and bi-sexual men. Robinson concludes Thats 1800 people who have been needlessly infected. HIV/ AIDS is entirely preventable through use of condoms and lube. Regular testing ensures people get treatment and reduces their likelihood of infecting others. We will be increasing our efforts to make this a widespread community norm.

NOTES TO JOURNALISTS

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