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Increasing HIV+ numbers strain services

Sun 7 Jun 2015 In: New Zealand Daily News View at Wayback

Mark Fisher The increase in numbers of gay and bi men diagnosed with HIV is placing a strain on the community organisation set up to provide peer support for men living with the virus. Figures released during the week show that for three years the number of new diagnoses amongst men who have sex with men has continued to rise, to the point where it is at the highest annual level since the epidemic started. Opinions are mixed as to the contribution to the high rate of diagnoses of heightened HIV testing campaigns, immigrant communities with less knowledge of HIV and how to avoid it and the increasing pool of people with HIV. But the country's largest HIV peer-support and advocacy organisation, Body Positive, already has 800 people on its books and funding to provide services to the increasing numbers of gay and bi men with HIV is not keeping up with demand. “We've seen a significant increase but in one way that's good news because it means people are testing and getting diagnosed early rather than not knowing because that is a more dangerous situation because you have a higher risk of transmitting the virus if you don't know,” says Body Positive General manager Mark Fisher. “So the fact that people are knowing is good. But the reality is that people are living longer which is great but now we're getting more people with HIV so that's an increasing burden on organisations like us.” Asked if the increasing pool of infected men is a factor in the ongoing rises in diagnoses, Fisher says that in the USA “they found out that around 90 per cent of the transmissions happened when people are infected but don't know, or when they know but aren't connected with care. Once someone is connected in with care their behaviour changes so thy are not transmitting as much and then when they get onto medications it's even better because they drop down to undetectable and then don't transmit.” He says Body Positive has made a lot of changes in recent times to try to get people linked into care and to stay in care. “The issue is if that people fall out of care then their viral load goes back up and so does their risk of transmitting the virus. We've done a study this year where we follow up three weeks after a new diagnosis and referral to make sure people are linked to care and they are happy and engaged, and we can deal with any of the other social issues as well because it's not just about the HIV but all the other things that go on in the case of a new diagnosis." With more and more people living with HIV Body Positive is finding its resources stretched. “We've had one increase, from $100,000 to $150,000 at the start of the year and that will carry us over for the next three years with no further increases. The rest of our money comes from grants and those are really tricky to secure. So at the moment we are really stretched in terms of what we can provide... we are looking at cutting back on some of our services, namely our testing which is unfortunate but we need to concentrate on providing support to people living with HIV which is what our purpose is.”    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Sunday, 7th June 2015 - 2:53pm

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