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HIV/AIDS Action Plan reviewed, updated & extended

Media Release Sunday November 30 2003

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."

ENDS

Q & As

How is HIV spread?

HIV is a caused by a virus that is spread by vaginal and anal sex and through contact with infected blood.

How do I avoid infection?

If you use a condom and lubricant in the correct way everytime you have sex then you wont get infected. The NZAF or the NZFPA or your doctor can tell you how to use condoms safely. If you inject drugs then you need to ensure that the equipment that you use has not been used by anyone before you.

How do I know if I have HIV infection?

You probably won't unless you are tested. The test can be arranged by your family doctor, family planning or the NZAF. The result of the test remains confidential. If you think that you may be at risk of infection you should have an HIV test.

What is the key message of the plan?

The key message is HIV/AIDS is still here and there is no cure, but it is preventable. In New Zealand the theme for World AIDS Day is ‘it's better to know what is safe and it's better to know whether I'm positive or negative'. Overseas research indicates that as many as one-third of the people infected do not know they are HIV positive.

How will the plan work?

Continuing and expanded targeting of 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.

What is the total number of people who have been diagnosed as HIV positive in New Zealand?

Since records started being taken in 1985, 1608 men and 261 women have tested positive. Worldwide there have been more than 42 million people diagnosed with HIV and 5 million of them were last year.

Who is most at risk?

In countries similar to New Zealand the rates of infection are increasing and this pattern looks to be repeating in New Zealand. In 2001 and 2002 in particular there is evidence of an increase in the number of new HIV infections amongst men who have sex with men (MSM). Men who have sex with men are still the single largest group at risk of HIV but other population groups need to be aware of the risks as well and how to access support and treatment. Over 80 percent of heterosexually transmitted HIV infections were acquired overseas.

Why are the numbers increasing?

Australia and the UK are experiencing an increase in the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) being diagnosed with HIV as we are seeing in New Zealand. There is no agreement on the possible reasons for this. While obviously a change in behaviour, maybe as a consequence of less concern over the seriousness of HIV infection, could be important, it is appreciated that the rising number could result from a relative rise in the prevalence of HIV among MSM due to increased survival.

What is happening with HIV antenatal screening?

19 Submissions were received on the discussion document on HIV screening in pregnancy, they are being analysed and a summary will be discussed at the December National Health Committee meeting. The Advisory Group's review of the Scientific Evidence on Antenatal HIV Screening will be used as a base for the first five criteria for antenatal HIV screening, while the discussion document and the submissions will be used as a base for the last three. The Committee will consider the issues and their advice at the February Committee meeting and look to finalise their advice in March.

When will the HIV/AIDS figures for 2003 be available?

The Ministry of Health publication, AIDS New Zealand gives an up to date picture of the NZ situation concerning HIV/AIDS twice a year and the next edition is due in February 2004.


The Sexual and Reproductive Health Resource Book will be available on the Ministry of Health website on Monday morning. http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/wpg_Index/Publications-Index

More background information is available at: http://www.moh.govt.nz/moh.nsf/wpg_Index/About-HIV+AIDS

ENDS

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