We can do more to aid people with HIV
There has been a 50 per cent increase in HIV cases over the past decade in Australia. So what are we going to do about it?
The biggest bang for our buck will be getting people who have HIV on treatment. The data suggests only around 50 per cent of people with HIV in Australia are on HIV treatment, yet it is becoming increasingly clear that virtually all people with HIV should consider taking treatment to benefit their health and wellbeing.
Untreated HIV is bad at all stages of the disease. Also, taking HIV treatment can significantly reduce the risk of passing on HIV to others.
For all the improvements in HIV treatment and care, this is not a disease you want. While treatments are effective, they need to be taken for life. There is no cure for HIV. Also, research is showing that people with HIV have higher rates of cardiovascular disease, cognitive impairment, kidney disease, cancers and lower bone density than the general population.
Being on HIV treatment can reduce the impact of some of these problems, so there are health advantages and well as prevention advantages in taking treatment.
To bring down rising rates of HIV infection, we need to change from a “business as usual” approach. Firstly, we need to make HIV testing easier and more widely available. Everyone at high risk to HIV should have access to testing, including rapid HIV testing which is not yet available in Australia. So we need access to rapid testing, so people can know within an hour if they are HIV positive, rather than waiting anxiously for days for a result.
That’s a disincentive to being tested; we need to make testing for HIV fast, easy and accessible.
In the US, one of the drugs used to treat HIV (called Truvada) has been approved for use to help stop HIV negative people from becoming infected. Truvada is a combination of two anti-HIV drugs taken as a once daily pill.
This is a major breakthrough for people at high risk of becoming HIV infected. While condoms need to remain the centrepiece of prevention efforts, Australia should move promptly to make Truvada available to people who are struggling to remain HIV free.
We want to give people information, and support them to make good decisions around sex - but if people are on HIV treatment and there’s a slip up or a problem then they’ve got a buffer.
There is too much red tape preventing easy access to testing and treatment for people with HIV and those at high risk of becoming infected.
We are urging the Federal Health Minister to fast-track changes to Australia’s National HIV Strategy to deal with these blockages - in the meanwhile the states and territories should be setting up their own measures for providing better access.
Some people have become complacent about HIV. And that’s often the case in public health challenges. People are complacent about smoking and diet and keeping fit to prevent heart disease. Complacency is part and parcel of public health challenges.
What you have to do to is keep giving people information regularly. And that’s what we’ve not been doing enough of in the HIV field, particularly in last couple of years where there’s been big changes in treating and preventing HIV – so much so that we may at last be on the track to achievng an AIDS-free generation.
But we won’t get there without reform, innovation and leadership from governments, scientists, doctors, people with HIV and affected communities working together in a determined and productive fashion.
Australia has long been regarded as a world leader in responding to HIV and AIDS. That reputation is now at risk.
So these disturbing rises in HIV infection are also an opportunity for us to act decisively to show the rest of the world that we are determined to be leaders in ending the HIV epidemic.
The Melbourne Declaration calls on State, Territory and Commonwealth Governments to work with community-based organisations, research centres and professional organisations to:
* Increase uptake of, and better HIV testing;
* Enhance access to antiretroviral treatment;
* Make HIV PrEP available, and
* Strengthen a partnership response and an enabling environment, including support for HIV research and dissemination of information.
Comments on this post will close at 8pm AEST.
Read all about it
Up to the minute Twitter chatter
The latest and greatest
Good morning Punchers. After four years of excellent fun and great conversation, this is the final post…
I have had some close calls, one that involved what looked to me like an AK47 pointed my way, followed…
In a world in which there are still people who subscribe to the vile notion that certain victims of sexual…