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HIV/AIDS Action Plan reviewed updated and extended

HIV/AIDS Action Plan reviewed, updated and extended

The Ministry of Health's Acting Director of Public Health, Dr Doug Lush says "New Zealand has been relatively successful in containing the HIV/AIDS epidemic, but we cannot afford to let our guard down. That’s why there has been this revamp of New Zealand's response to HIV/AIDS."

The release of the HIV/AIDS Action Plan coincides with the promotion of a new Sexual and Reproductive Health Resource Book for Healthcare Organisations and will be available in time for World AIDS day on December 1.

The plan reflects continued and expanded targeting of health promotion and education programmes and services to the groups most vulnerable to and affected by HIV/AIDS. These groups are men who have sex with men, sex workers, intravenous drug users, refugees and migrants from high-prevalence countries and people living with HIV/AIDS.

There is an extra $1.2 million being spent this year on supporting national and local sexual health services, including $300,000 for the AIDS Foundation and $350,000 for NZ Family Planning Association. There is another $1.8 million being put into a safer sex campaign with work on that beginning in the New Year.

Although there have been changes in the characteristics of people infected with HIV, unprotected sex between men continues to be the highest risk behaviour for HIV transmission within New Zealand. More than three-quarters of HIV cases in New Zealand were believed to have been transmitted through unprotected sex between men, and just over half of the cases were acquired in New Zealand.

Nearly three-quarters of heterosexually acquired HIV infections were as a result of unprotected sex in a high-prevalence country or with a person from a high-prevalence country.

Injecting drug use has maintained a low incidence of HIV transmission, indicating strategies like the needle and syringe exchange programme have been successful and clearly need to continue.

There appears to be a worrying trend of increases in HIV infections in developing countries that has also been reflected in New Zealand. The number of people diagnosed annually with HIV has been increasing since 1999. In 2002, 107 people were diagnosed HIV-positive and so far this year 112 new cases have been diagnosed.

Dr Lush said "New Zealand must sustain a long term public health approach to the HIV epidemic that puts primary prevention at its centre because while there is no cure, the disease is preventable. This means promoting proper and consistent use of condoms and providing clean needles and syringes for those who chose to inject drugs."

"People who are sexually active need to know that the total number of new HIV infections recorded this year in New Zealand is higher than in previous years and that men who have sex with men are at particulalry high risk of becoming infected."

"People who think that they might be at risk of HIV infection should discuss having a test with their doctor, the New Zealand Aids Foundation, Family Planning or sexual health clinics."

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