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HIV in NZ: Infections increasing, drugs failing

Wed 3 Dec 2003 In: HIV

Numbers of gay men in New Zealand contracting HIV are on the increase, drug-resistant forms of the virus are now being detected here and available drugs are failing. That's just some of the grim news as HIV's feared second wave hits our community. Consider these points: For the first time since 1997 our rates of HIV infection amongst men who have sex with men are increasing; More than 2000 New Zealanders are now living with HIV for the first time in our history of the epidemic; The first cases of drug-resistant HIV have recently appeared in New Zealand; A number of New Zealanders have now run out of drug treatment options... available HIV drugs can no longer help them to stay alive; Access to new drug treatments is becoming increasingly difficult with few treatment options available for some people; Massive increases in HIV infection are reported in places with an epidemic of a similar nature to New Zealand's, such as Sydney and San Francisco... and where they lead New Zealand usually follows; We now have the largest pool of HIV in New Zealand than at any time in the history of the epidemic; Increased numbers of men who have sex with men are becoming infected in New Zealand. Underscoring these highly disturbing facts are popular beliefs that "HIV and AIDS is over", that "people don't need to worry about it any more", and "if I do get 'it' I can just take a pill". But this is simply not the case, as the points above show. More than ever, gay New Zealanders need to be vigilant and take precautions (use a condom) to protect themselves and their partners. New Zealand has a long and enviable history at limiting the effects of HIV in our most at-risk populations, primarily gay men. An initial sustained drop in new HIV infection rates and one of the lowest prevalence rates in the world was an achievement we could be proud of. The uptake of condoms in the early days of the HIV epidemic was, without doubt, one of the singularly most successful public health interventions in the history of New Zealand. This, coupled with needle exchanges and condom use by sex workers, has seen New Zealand succeed where many other countries have failed; and this success belongs to the communities most at risk of HIV infection. But we are now seeing a resurgence of HIV infection in our community. In 2002 there were 107 new HIV diagnoses and this looks set to increase further in 2003. Anecdotal evidence and information from research such as the NZAF's Gay Auckland Periodic Sex Survey (GAPSS) tell us that an increasing number of men are choosing to have unprotected anal intercourse (fucking without condoms) even with casual partners. This choice puts not only themselves, but also us as a community at risk. Drug failure is now a reality in New Zealand. The advent of a new generation of drug treatments in 1996 saw an increase in the life expectancy of those living with HIV. Today those same drugs are failing and the first few cases of drug resistance to all classes of drug are appearing. Those living with these drug resistant strains of HIV have few if any treatment options. This is exacerbated by the refusal of New Zealand's drug purchasing agency PHARMAC to purchase the newer classes of drug available in other parts of the world, including Australia. 2004 will be a pivotal year in the HIV epidemic in New Zealand. We have the opportunity to 'maintain the gains' we have made over the past twenty years or watch as HIV infection starts to climb once again. We all have a role to play, and as a community we must act. The early successes are gay community successes... all of us working together to prevent the transmission of HIV, all of us using condoms to protect our partners and ourselves. The failure of drug treatments and the HIV virus's ability to adapt and resist these treatments highlight our vulnerability to HIV and the near impossibility, of there ever being a cure for the virus. All we have is prevention, and that means using a condom for fucking!, edited from a report commissioned from the NZ AIDS Foundation NZAF - 3rd December 2003    

Credit: NZAF

First published: Wednesday, 3rd December 2003 - 12:00pm

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