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HIV in 2004 remain at last year’s high levels

Thursday 17 February 2005

New diagnoses of HIV in 2004 remain at last year’s high levels

The record numbers of new HIV cases in New Zealand in 2003 have continued for 2004, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation said today.

Commenting on the new HIV/AIDS figures for all of 2004 released by the AIDS Epidemiology Group today, the Foundation noted that in 2004 there were 157 new diagnoses of HIV through antibody testing, compared to 154 in 2003. In the two years prior to 2003, 107 and 95 people respectively had been diagnosed with HIV.

Of the 157 new HIV diagnoses, 73 were men who have sex with men (MSM) and 65 were acquired via heterosexual sex. However, 92% of those newly diagnosed with heterosexually-acquired HIV in New Zealand in 2004 were actually infected overseas, whereas 70% of the new homosexually-acquired HIV infections occurred within New Zealand (51 men). This means MSM still represent the biggest group of HIV infections occurring in this country.

Of the 51 MSM infected within New Zealand, the average age at diagnoses was 38, with a quarter aged under 30 and a similar proportion (24%) aged 50 or over.

The Foundation notes that many of the new HIV diagnoses among MSM are the result of recent infections. In 2003 it had been suggested that the high number of new HIV diagnoses among MSM who had never tested for HIV before, might indicate that the increase was a result of historic unsafe sexual activity. But, in the 2004 figures, 16 had had a negative HIV test within the previous 12 months.

NZAF Research Director Tony Hughes said that while this might suggest that MSM who have been exposed to HIV had tested relatively soon after the event, the fact that their last negative test was less than 12 months ago also indicated that these men had not changed to an effective HIV risk reduction strategy after that test (i.e. they continued to engage in unprotected anal sex).

Hughes also noted that the 2004 epidemiology report showed a continued low level of AIDS diagnoses in New Zealand and the lowest number of AIDS-related deaths since 1984, a testament to the efficacy of modern HIV care and treatment. However, he was concerned that of the 127 people diagnosed with AIDS in the five years from 2000 to 2004, two thirds received their AIDS diagnoses within one month of their HIV diagnoses.

“Late diagnoses of HIV such as this means that HIV treatments are unlikely to be as effective at preventing illness, and onwards HIV transmission is less likely to be avoided.”

The continued high incidence of new HIV diagnoses in New Zealand cannot be put down to a single factor, Hughes said.

“The fact is, that while HIV prevention remains as straightforward as it has always been – properly used condoms provide near complete protection against HIV – the human factor in this epidemic has become increasingly complex. While most MSM do use condoms most of the time, there is still enough unsafe sex behaviour to drive this epidemic forward rather than halt or reverse it.”

ENDS

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