On World AIDS Day, peak body says elimination can be achieved in Australia by 2025

World AIDS day. December 1. Where to next? A red ribbon with 40 years of HIV written on it diagonally.

Jeremy Lasek – PHAA

Today, 1 December, is World AIDS Day.

After 40 years of trying to control the spread of HIV in Australia, the peak national organisation for Australia’s community HIV response, says 100% elimination should now be our goal, and is achievable.

Every year 900 Australians are diagnosed with AIDS but according to the CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), Darryl O’Donnell, elimination could be just a matter of years away.

‘Today we have all of the tools and technologies needed to bring this epidemic to an end,’ Mr O’Donnell said.

In June this year AFAO presented a costed plan from Australian researchers and clinicians to government which they believe could eliminate HIV transmissions by the 2025. If adopted, at an annual cost of $53 million, they say it would prevent more than 6,000 new infections by 2030, saving $1.4 billion in health costs. (AFAO says every new HIV diagnosis in Australia costs our healthcare system around $250,000).

The Public Health Association of Australia (PHAA) has set a target of investment in preventive health to increase to 5% of total health expenditure by 2030. It is one of the seven key focus areas for the PHAA ahead of the 2022 federal election. Should this additional investment be realised, it could support the AFAO’s AIDS elimination strategy.

2021 AIDS Day theme

The national World AIDS Day theme for Australia in 2021 is 40 years of HIV – where to next?

World AIDS Day aims to encourage Australians to educate themselves and others about HIV, to take action to reduce the transmission of HIV by promoting prevention strategies, and to ensure that people living with HIV can participate fully in the life of the community, free from stigma and discrimination.

As a community and as individuals, there is a lot we can do in relation to HIV. Working in partnership with people with HIV, we can encourage others to understand how HIV is transmitted. We can support people to access testing, treatment and care, as we know that commencing treatment at the early stages of HIV results in better health outcomes and reduces the likelihood of transmission.

Each year, AFAO provides a snapshot of what HIV looks like in Australia. This resource, HIV in Australia 2021, provides the most up-to-date epidemiological data in the form of a straightforward infographic.

AIDS in Australia

In 2019, it was estimated that there were 29,045 people living with HIV in Australia.

Of these, an estimated 90% were diagnosed by the end of 2019. The research also shows that 91% of people diagnosed were receiving HIV treatment, and of those on treatment, 97% had an undetectable viral load.

In 2019, 59% of HIV notifications were attributed to sexual contact between men. Some 23% of cases were attributed to heterosexual sex, 7% to a combination of sexual contact between men and injecting drug use, 3% to injecting drug use alone, and 8% to other/unspecified.

Over the last five years, the rate of diagnosis has been between 1.3 and 1.9 times as high among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Peoples than Australian born non-Indigenous people.

In Australia, 29 November to 6 December is Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander HIV Awareness Week (ATSIHAW).

The resource, Us Mob and HIV, contains useful information on HIV developed specifically for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people.

The global AIDS picture

While COVID-19 has dominated the headlines over the past two years, HIV/AIDS remains one of the world’s most infectious diseases.

An estimated 38 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV or AIDS. Of these, around 36 million were adults and close to two million were children (<15 years old).

An estimated 1.5 million individuals worldwide acquired HIV in 2020, marking a 30% decline in new HIV infections since 2010.

While better testing regimes are having a positive impact, almost one million people die from HIV/AIDS each year; in some countries it’s the leading cause of death.

The role of UNAIDS

UNAIDS is leading the global effort to end AIDS as a public health threat by 2030.

UNAIDS theme for World AIDS Day 2021 is End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics.

The focus of UNAIDS is on stopping new HIV infections, ensuring that everyone living with HIV has access to HIV treatment, protecting and promoting human rights, and producing data for decision-making.

UNAIDS issued a stark warning this week that if leaders fail to tackle inequalities the world could face 7.7 million AIDS-related deaths over the next 10 years.

COVID-19’s impact

COVID-19 is undercutting the AIDS response in many places. The pace of HIV testing declined almost uniformly, and fewer people living with HIV initiated treatment in 2020 in 40 of 50 countries reporting to UNAIDS.

HIV prevention services have been hindered. In 2020 harm reduction services for people who use drugs were disrupted in 65% of 130 countries surveyed.

Show your support for people with HIV on World AIDS Day by wearing a red ribbon, the international symbol of HIV awareness and support.

Image: World AIDS Day Australia

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