- Victoria's rate of HIV diagnoses has risen markedly over
the past two years, worrying Australia's HIV/AIDS experts who will meet
in Melbourne next month to develop a new state campaign and review the
national response to the disease.
- The number of new HIV notifications rose 6.6 per cent
in 2001 - up from 198 cases to 211 - and by 41 per cent in 2000, according
to the Victorian Infectious Diseases Bulletin. After a gradual decline
in diagnoses throughout the 1990s, the sharp increase in 2000 represents
the highest number of notifications in Victoria for six years.
- The national president of the Australian Federation of
AIDS Organisations, Bill Whittaker, said yesterday: "These figures
in Victoria are a clear warning sign. We have got a window of opportunity
to fix up Australia's AIDS response. We should take it now - if we don't
we are going to pay down the road with more HIV infections, more costs
and more human suffering."
- The deputy director of Melbourne's Burnet Institute,
Nick Crofts, warned that "safe-sex fatigue" and optimism about
treatments had, to some extent, changed the way people viewed HIV/AIDS.
"In some ways the fear of AIDS has lost some of its bite," he
- Next month's Melbourne forum will help to launch a new
state HIV/AIDS strategy. Rob Moodie, chief executive officer of VicHealth
and chair of the ministerial advisory committee on AIDS, said one area
the forum would investigate was why rises in infection rates in Victoria
and South Australia had not been reflected in all states. "We are
intrigued and we can't work out why this hasn't happened in New South Wales
yet, because they have even higher levels of unprotected anal intercourse
and higher levels of gonorrhoea," he said.
- Local concerns coincide with the opening today of the
14th bi-annual international AIDS summit in Barcelona, Spain, where many
of the world's health leaders, scientists and activists are expected to
discuss proposals to provide aid to the poorest countries in Africa - the
continent hardest hit by HIV/AIDS.
- United Nations Secretary-General Kofi Annan has called
for up to $20 billion to pay for AIDS education and anti-retroviral drugs.
Only 7 per cent of that amount has been pledged so far.
- And, on the eve of the summit, a new study by international
experts says that two-thirds of the infections expected to occur in the
next eight years - some 29 million - could be averted if nations quickly
instituted disease-prevention strategies, such as advertising campaigns,
condom distribution and needle exchanges for drug users.
- Dr Moodie said the new Victorian campaign would aim to
counter HIV/AIDS in a variety of ways. "It covers increased efforts
in prevention education, voluntary counselling and testing, the care and
management of people who have HIV and also in preventative treatment for
- Dr Crofts said although Australia was admired for its
role in controlling HIV, it had failed to heed a warning from the inaugural
director of UNAIDS, the late Jonathon Mann. "He came to Australia
once and he said, 'Your biggest danger is complacency', and I think we've
fallen into that over the last few years.
- "New generations of gay men are coming up who haven't
experienced the impact of AIDS because they've grown up and become sexually
active in an atmosphere of availability of treatments," Dr Crofts
- The president of the Victorian AIDS Council, Darren Russell,
said although Australian levels of HIV infection remained among the world's
lowest, a recent increase in HIV diagnoses rates was one of many factors
that could lead to further rises. "My gut feeling is we're not going
to see a decrease at this stage," Dr Russell said.