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HIV is a reality for all New Zealanders

HIV is a reality for all New Zealanders says NZ AIDS Foundation

A record year for new HIV diagnoses is a warning that all New Zealanders must take responsibility for keeping themselves and their sexual partners safe, regardless of their gender or sexual identity, says the New Zealand AIDS Foundation.

Figures released today by the AIDS Epidemiology Group at Otago University show that in 2005, 183 people were diagnosed with HIV, the highest total for one year since records began in 1985 and a 17% increase on 2004 (157).

Of the 183 new diagnoses, 89 were men-who-have-sex-with-men (up 19% on 2004), 73 (35 men and 38 women) were infected heterosexually (no increase on 2004) and six were children diagnosed with HIV through mother-to-child transmission, four of whom were born in New Zealand to mothers who had not beed diagnosed with HIV. There are now more people living with HIV in New Zealand than ever before.

“What this tells us,” said New Zealand AIDS Foundation Board Chairman Hoani Jeremy Lambert, “is that no-one in New Zealand can afford to be complacent about HIV. Treatments might have improved but this is still a deadly serious virus. It has a major impact on health and wellbeing and people still die prematurely, especially infected children.”

NZAF Executive Director Rachael Le Mesurier hammered home this point.

“The medicines delay the progression from HIV to AIDS but they are not a cure and they do not prevent transmission of the virus to others,” she said. “Prevention is still our best option. A properly used condom is close to 100% effective against the virus and HIV screening of all pregnant women would practically eliminate mother-to-child transmission.”

Ms Le Mesurier said the Foundation was concerned that the primary reason for the increase in HIV in New Zealand was new diagnoses among men-who-have sex-with-men (MSM); new heterosexual diagnoses, though high, were the same as last year.

“In spite of an abundance of HIV prevention information in gay communities, it seems that an increasing number of men are choosing not to use condoms for anal sex every time,” she said. “Further analysis is needed but it is highly likely that major factors influencing this increase include the success of HIV treatments causing people to be less worried about avoiding HIV; the growth of internet dating, which is hugely increasing the opportunities men have for sex; the integration of the gay community into the “mainstream” making it harder to target HIV prevention messages designed for MSM; and the eroticisation of unsafe sex.”

Of special concern, Lambert said, was the growth of HIV diagnoses among MSM in Auckland.

“Three out of every four men newly diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand last year, lived in Auckland,” he said. “The Foundation had already embarked on Auckland specific campaigns and will be following this up with further initiatives, for which the Foundation will be seeking community support.”

“We can’t turn these figures around on our own,” he said. “Businesses that make money by providing services to gay and bisexual men, gay organisations and community leaders, and concerned individuals all have a role to play in re-energising the gay community’s fight against this disease. Gay men have done it before, they must do it again.”

ENDS

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