New South Wales reports HIV diagnoses at their lowest since 1985
In a historic moment, the department of health in New South Wales has announced that the number of HIV diagnoses is at its lowest since the beginning of the HIV epidemic.
This kind of decline in cases of diagnosis is unprecedented internationally. The department is said to owe its success to trials of the preventative drug PrEP, or Pre-exposure Prophylaxis.
The Kirby institute funded ‘EPIC-NSW’ study has more than 6700 participants. It aims to distribute PrEP to HIV-negative people from high-risk groups.
The institute then follows up with the participants for two years whilst administering the drug. Their strategy, Professor Cooper – a leading spokesperson for the study admits, is a “rapid and targeted rollout of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in the community,”
A dramatic decline of transmissions can be seen in gay and bisexual men – the main population targeted by the study.
One of the reasons cited for this is the study’s commitment to regular testing, with over 250,000 tests carried out in the first half of 2017 alone.
Beyond this, advancements in treatment for HIV-positive individuals can often mean that viral loads decrease so much that it is impossible to pass on HIV.
These strategies have led to the infection rate sitting at its lowest since 1985. The institute is confident that “NSW is on track to virtually eliminate HIV transmission by 2020.”
Results of the study come with some caveats. High-risk groups from overseas are yet to see a decline in HIV diagnosis.
And due to high costs, most Australians can only gain access to PrEP medication through research trials like the one led by the Kirby institute.
Despite its success, the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC) have yet to confirm any decision to fund larger-scale programs for PrEP distribution, citing the need to stick to cost-effective modeling.
The Western Australian AIDS Council expressed its disappointment with PBAC’s inaction thus far. The council agrees with the evidence suggested in the Kirby institute report, obtaining that for every 13 people taking PrEP, one HIV infection is averted.
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations is hopeful that decision to defer funding won’t pose an obstacle to widespread access to PrEP in Australia.
“While the decision is frustrating for our communities, it is important to remember that a deferred decision is not a ‘No’, and a positive recommendation could be reached by December.”