In 2017, 197 people were diagnosed with HIV – a decrease from the 243 reported in 2016, figures released today by the AIDS Epidemiology Group, University of Otago, show. The number of people notified as having AIDS was also down on last year from 20 to 12, with five of those being diagnosed with AIDS within three months of being diagnosed with HIV.

Dr Sue McAllister, the AIDS Epidemiology Group, said although last year was the first time there had been a reduction in HIV diagnoses since 2011, it was important to put the results in perspective.

“While this decrease in the number of [HIV] diagnoses is encouraging, it is too early to say whether this decline will be maintained.”

Last year’s numbers are now similar to the number of people diagnosed with HIV in the mid-2000s but is still an increase on numbers in 2012 and 2013. Numbers have not returned to the level of about 140 diagnoses or less recorded in both 2011 and in the first few years of this century.

Gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM) were the group most affected. Of the 197 people diagnosed, 128 were MSM and 24 were heterosexually infected (similar numbers of men and women).

For most of the remainder, the means of infection was not reported, with only one person infected through injecting drug use and two people who had been infected through mother-to-child transmission overseas.

The reduction in the number of people diagnosed in 2017 was in both MSM (128 compared to 164 in 2016) and heterosexual men and women (24 compared to 42 in 2016).

McAllister says there have been some changes to the management of people with HIV, which may have helped to prevent the disease. Now HIV-infected individuals are able to start treatment immediately on diagnosis with the removal of the clinical threshold for receipt of subsidised anti-retroviral therapy. Pre-exposure prophylaxes are now available to prevent infection for individuals at high risk of HIV.

“These new measures, along with use of condoms, regular and early HIV testing and screening and treatment for other sexually transmitted infections, all need to be utilised in order to see a continued decline,” said McAllister.

She said it was particularly important, in light of the availability of new prevention measures, to monitor behavioural patterns that might be underlying changes in the number of people diagnosed.

Also important were efforts to combat the stigma about HIV and the groups most affected, which can discourage people from getting tested and  make people  less receptive to health promotion messages.

McAlister said while the latest results showed only a small number of HIV diagnoses among heterosexually infected men and women in 2017, it was still important for anyone who considered they had been at risk to have an HIV test.

Between 1998 and 2017 there were 169 births in New Zealand to women known to be HIV-infected prior to the time of delivery. None of these children have been infected with HIV.

The latest report also shows that the number of AIDS diagnoses and deaths has been tracking downwards, with AIDS diagnoses peaking in the late 1980s and AIDS deaths in 1993.

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