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AIDS in Australia hits new low during pandemic

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To mark World AIDS Day, the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales (UNSW) Sydney revealed data on Wednesday, showing that AIDS cases in Australia reached an all-time low during the pandemic.

Across 2020, there were just 633 new diagnoses across Australia, a 30 per cent drop from the previous year and the lowest number of yearly cases since 1984.

Dr Skye McGregor, epidemiologist and head of the Surveillance Innovation Group at the Kirby Institute, said that while the fact that HIV cases have been declining in Australia since 2015 is positive, it is important to consider how Covid-19 and the ensuing restrictions influenced a sharp drop in 2020.

“With Covid social restrictions in place, people have been having less sex, and were less likely to go and get tested. There has also been less travel in and out of Australia,” said McGregor.

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Over the last five years HIV in Australia has declined thanks to a combination of prevention measures including expanded testing, community and government-led prevention programmes and the implementation of new treatment strategies, Xinhua news agency reported.

While there is still no cure for AIDS, people living with the virus who regularly take prescribed medicine can maintain a low viral load, which nearly eliminates their risk of spreading the disease.

However, in 2020 nearly half of all AIDS cases recorded in Australia were considered “late diagnoses,” reinforcing the need for widespread and accessible testing.

With this in mind, McGregor said Australia is “tracking well” in its goal to eliminate AIDS by 2030 as set by global AIDS action group, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS).

Chief executive of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations (AFAO), Adjunct Professor at UNSW Darryl O’Donnell highlighted the long-term economic benefits that eliminating the disease would bring.

“This is entirely achievable with political will and investment. It will deliver a remarkable health achievement while also saving taxpayers billions of dollars in long term costs.”

In recognition of World AIDS Day, the Australian government announced 50 million Australian dollars (about 36 million US dollars) in funding of HIV treatment and support of people living with the disease in Australia.

“By expanding treatment to more people living with HIV in Australia, we can improve health outcomes for individuals and contribute to curbing the onward transmission of the virus,” said Minister for Health and Aged Care Greg Hunt.



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