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Action needed to stem alarming rise in HIV

PRESS RELEASE – Monday 28 June 2004

Urgent community action needed to stem alarming rise in HIV

The HIV infection rates for the first quarter of 2004 should send an alarming wake-up call to every New Zealander says the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

Details of new HIV cases diagnosed from January to March (inclusive) this year indicate that 2004 might double last year’s record numbers for HIV infections among men-who-have-sex-with-men, NZAF Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier said today, unless there is a dramatic increase in individual and community action to reverse an increase in new infections.

In 2003, New Zealand experienced its worst year ever for new cases of HIV at 188 (nearly four a week), up from 136 in 2002. Most of that increase was among men-who-have-sex-with-men (MSM) – up 39% - equalling the highest ever number of new HIV cases annually in this group in New Zealand. However the heterosexual community cannot afford to be complacent as 33% of the total cases in 2003 were heterosexual.

The AIDS Epidemiology Group in Dunedin has announced that for the first quarter of 2004, 25 MSM were newly diagnosed with HIV, compared with 12 in the same period in 2003.

The AIDS Foundation has already announced a series of community forums to get communities talking about ways to combat the alarming 2003 figures, Ms Le Mesurier said. The quarterly figures for 2004 add urgency to that process.

“The Foundation has some ideas as to why we have seen this dramatic increase in HIV infection,” Ms Le Mesurier said, “but we not claiming to have all the answers and we cannot tackle this on our own. We need to hear from our communities why they think this is happening and what action they think might be taken. We also need everyone – members of all risk groups and their concerned families, friends and health professionals – to re-establish their support for the safe sex culture.

“The HIV/AIDS epidemic is becoming increasingly complex, but the most effective means of control is the same as it has been since the start of the epidemic nearly 20 years ago – condoms for vaginal and anal intercourse. We know from previous successes in New Zealand that regular and correct condom use dramatically reduces the incidence of HIV.

“What we are seeing now is not a failure of condoms but a misunderstanding of the risks of HIV infection. The forums give us an opportunity to hear from our communities as to why that might be happening and what they think can be done about it.”

Ms Le Mesurier said the AIDS Foundation would record the forums and report back to its communities on what themes and recommendations emerged and what action the Foundation would be taking in response.

NZAF Community forums will be held at:
Monday, 28 June
Western Springs Garden Restaurant Exhibition Hall
990 Great North Road
Point Chevalier
7pm – 9pm

Tuesday, 29 June
Next Door Bar
10 High Street
7pm – 9pm

Wednesday, 30 June
Mercure Hotel
345 The Terrace
6.30pm – 8.30pm

Thursday, 1 July
Latimer Hotel
Conference Centre
Latimer Square
7pm – 9pm

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