High level of HIV in NZ persists


A high level of HIV diagnoses in New Zealand still remains, latest figures from the AIDS Epidemiology Group reveal.

The data, funded by the Ministry of Health, shows 224 people were diagnosed with HIV in New Zealand last year, up from 217 in 2014.

High level of HIV in NZ persists


Of the 224, 68 percent were gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, making it the largest group affected. Of the 153 in this group to be found infected, 120 were diagnosed in New Zealand and 33 had been diagnosed overseas.

Nineteen percent infected with HIV were heterosexual men and women.

Of this group, about half had been infected in New Zealand, and half overseas. The number in New Zealand has stayed relatively stable over the past decade, the report says.

Infection through injecting drug use made up a small percentage while one child was diagnosed overseas.

AIDS Epidemiology Group director associate professor Nigel Dickson says the latter figures remain low in New Zealand because of the Needle Exchange Programme and testing all pregnant women.

But he says of particular concern is the number of men who have sex with men (MSM) infected in New Zealand.

"While the number diagnosed each year will not necessarily reflect the number newly infected, for the past two years there has been a higher number of MSM being diagnosed with evidence of a relatively newly acquired infection, suggesting an increase in recent incidence in this group."

Assoc Prof Dickson say although regular HIV testing is important, those with the disease are most infectious to their sexual partners in the weeks and months after they have been infected, and condom use is essential.

However, he says anyone sick with symptoms that could be due to HIV should be offered a test whatever their sexual nature.

"It is also important that efforts are made to combat the stigma about HIV and the groups most affected, as when this exists testing could be discouraged, and people be less receptive to health promotion messages."

The most represented racial group was European -- 71 percent among MSM infected, and 60 percent of heterosexuals infected.

Assoc Prof Dickson says to combat the increasing number of infections, countries are funding antiretroviral treatment for anyone with HIV, whatever their level of immune deficiency.

He says some countries are considering providing this treatment to high-risk uninfected people, with trials proving this to be effective in reducing risk.

Condom use and free HIV testing clinics have kept transmission at low levels but on their own won't stop the epidemic getting worse, says Peter Saxton, an HIV researcher from the University of Auckland's School of Population Health.

Rather than waiting until their health deteriorates, people needed to get HIV treatment as soon as they were diagnosed, which reduced their infectiousness, he said.

"The next priority is to fast-track the use of antiviral treatment to greatly reduce HIV acquisition among the small number of uninfected individuals at very high risk."

The World Health Organisation had recommended the use of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), which was not formally available in New Zealand.

PrEP is a pill taken daily by people who don't have HIV but are at risk of contracting it. It has been shown to reduce the risk of HIV infection by up to 92 per cent.

PrEP goes by the trade name Truvada, which the Medsafe website says was given consent for New Zealand use in 2006.

"These new prevention tools would only apply to a small number of individuals. They are a good example of targeted interventions that use scarce health resources efficiently and have a disproportionate high impact on the epidemic," Dr Saxton said.

Newshub. / NZN