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HIV diagnoses among gay men increase one per week

HIV diagnoses among gay men increase to almost one per week

HIV diagnoses among men who have sex with men in 2002 were the highest in New Zealand since 1996. Fifty men who have sex with men (MSM) were found to be infected with HIV through antibody testing, a rise from a stable number of about 35 over each of the previous four years.

While cautioning that the numbers being diagnosed are still small in New Zealand, and therefore random numerical fluctuations from year to year can appear as a large percentage change, NZAF Executive Director Kevin Hague stated that the information is cause for concern.

“The availability of new HIV treatments (Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapies – or HAART) in the mid 1990s resulted in improvements in the health of many people with diagnosed HIV infection, particularly by limiting the progression of HIV on to an AIDS-defining illness.”

“However, health promoters have feared for some time that the decreasing public visibility of AIDS might lead to heightened complacency about HIV. This could eventually lead many uninfected gay men into believing that HIV was no longer a significant personal threat.”

Approaching the third decade of the AIDS epidemic, NZAF has been at pains to point out through its prevention campaigns that the risks associated with any one occasion of unprotected intercourse are actually increased in statistical terms.

“This is because there are more HIV positive individuals in NZ than ever before. Many are aware of their infection because they have tested positive, but some are not. In Western countries, it is estimated that about a third of people infected with HIV are not aware of it at any one point in time.”

“It’s therefore important for people not to automatically assume that their sexual partner is HIV negative – it’s everyone’s responsibility to practice safe sex. This is particularly critical for gay men.”

It is especially disappointing since New Zealand is a world leader in preventing the spread of HIV, particularly among MSM. Initial research for example indicates that condom use during casual sex between men seems to have been maintained so far. A recent study suggests that New Zealand MSM have higher rates of condom use than has been found in similar studies of Australian gay men, although on the flipside New Zealand MSM demonstrate considerably lower rates of testing for HIV.

In fact, since the mid 1990s, rates of unprotected sex have gradually increased in many studies of gay men overseas, but until recently there had been little simultaneous rise in diagnoses among this group. There was evidence this was beginning to change however, said Hague, and in the last couple of years the number of HIV diagnoses were up among MSM in the U.K., in half the states in the U.S., in Victoria in Australia, and in British Columbia and the city of Toronto in Canada. In this respect, we might be witnessing something that is happening across gay male communities internationally, he said.

“Fifty diagnoses over one year amounts to almost one diagnosis a week. Although it’s possible that some of these infections may have been acquired some time ago or that last year’s high number of diagnoses is an aberration, it means that gay men are still becoming infected with HIV in New Zealand.”

“As much as some people might like to pretend HIV has gone away, it hasn’t.”

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