Prevention needed for the spread of HIV in NZ

  • 04/12/2015
HIV testing (Reuters)
HIV testing (Reuters)

More action needs to be taken to prevent the spread of HIV before New Zealand's good record with the virus is ruined, researchers say.

In a new article in the New Zealand Medical Journal, researchers say rates of HIV transmission have not been declining and policy changes are needed to reduce the figures.

They noted in 2014, 126 gay or bisexual men had been infected with the virus in New Zealand - including 86 contracting it in the country - the highest number ever recorded.

Meanwhile, the cost of HIV medication for the government has risen from $14.6 million in 2010 to $26.4 million last year.

"If we do adapt quickly we can virtually eliminate HIV transmission in New Zealand, and be the first country to do so," authors Peter Saxton, Anthony Hughes and Massimo Giola note.

Their proposed policy changes include a government-funded programme for quarterly STI screenings for those at high risk from the virus.

They also call for prompt HIV testing following sex without a condom and potentially home-testing HIV, improved access to STI tests, immediate access to antiretroviral medication after diagnosis and more sophisticated promotion of condoms.

"The possibilities of this approach were recently modelled in Australia, where a 44 per cent reduction in HIV diagnoses nationally was estimated in the first year," they said.

The researchers also called for an end to Pharmac's policy of only funding HIV antiretroviral medication for those with over a certain level of infected cells in their blood.