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World AIDS Day 1st December 2004

World AIDS Day 1st December 2004

1st DECEMBER 2004

THERE is no room for complacency about HIV and AIDS in New Zealand, according to key health groups working in the area.

New figures from the AIDS Epidemiology Group at Otago University show 108 people diagnosed HIV positive so far this year. Amongst them are 23 women and four children.

"Traditionally we have tended to think of HIV and AIDS as illnesses affecting men who have sex with men, and injecting drug users," Acting Director of Public Health Dr Doug Lush said.

"However trends overseas prompted the World Health Organisation this year to focus on women and girls."

"We in New Zealand are lucky: we do not have the devastating rates of disease which are affecting some other countries, and neither has AIDS here developed as a heterosexual epidemic in the way many observers earlier feared it might. But we can never afford to become complacent."

The Otago figures show approximately the same number of people diagnosed HIV positive at the end of September this year (108) as at the same time last year (109).

Of the 108 newly diagnosed, 50 (46%) were men who had sex with men. 36 of these men were thought to have been infected in New Zealand. Of the remainder, 46 (23 men and 23 women) were infected through heterosexual contact. Most of these people were infected overseas.

Four children who had been infected through being born to an infected mother have also been diagnosed so far this year. Two of these children were born in New Zealand to mothers whose HIV was diagnosed only after the delivery.

The AIDS Foundation's Executive Director, Rachael Le Mesurier said "It's true that men who have sex with men continue to account for the greatest number of new HIV infections that have occurred within New Zealand (as opposed to infections that have occurred overseas but been diagnosed here). But significantly, overall the number of new heterosexually-transmitted infections have been roughly the same as homosexually-transmitted cases for the past five years. There is obviously potential for the balance to change."

Dr Gill Greer, Executive Director of the Family Planning Association, agrees saying "Very high rates of other sexually transmitted infections among women, especially young women, mean there is significant risk of HIV becoming even more prominent in the heterosexual community.

"This is because the high presence of other STIs is not only indicative of a lot of unsafe sexual behaviour, but also because the presence of an STI can make a person some ten times more vulnerable to HIV, Dr Greer said.

The AIDS Foundation and the Ministry of Health stressed the effectiveness of condoms for sexually active people In spite of what we sometimes hear in the media about the effectiveness of new HIV treatments, HIV/AIDS is still a very serious illness that reduces both the quality and quantity of life; people are still dying. There is no cure, nor likely to be one. Prevention is much better than a lifetime on pills," Ms Le Mesurier and Dr Lush said.

All we need, for HIV to be dramatically reduced in this country, is for all people to take responsibility for their behaviour and their personal safety and own up to the fact that they also have a responsibility for their sexual partners. By keeping yourself safe, you make life safer for others.

ENDS


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