New data released by Australia's NSW Health has revealed that HIV notifications increased by six per cent from 2002 to 2003. This follows a 15 per cent increase from 2001 to 2002, and represents a 22 per cent increase over two years.
There were 412 people who received an HIV diagnosis for the first time in NSW in 2003. This follows on from 387 HIV notifications in 2002 and 337 in 2001.
Gay men living in the inner city and inner west account for the majority of new diagnoses. However, there were also disproportionate increases in the Hunter and in Wollongong. HIV infections were concentrated among people aged 20-50, with 40 per cent of people diagnosed aged 30-39. Fifteen per cent of notifications were heterosexuals.
Director of Communicable Diseases, Dr Jeremy McAnulty says it is very disappointing to see a further increase in the number of people being diagnosed with HIV.
"Given that there had been such a large jump from 2001 to 2002, we were really hoping to see rates decline. What this tells us is that we are still in the upswing of the epidemic.
"This is the first time there has been a sustained increase in HIV diagnoses in NSW since the late 1980s. Two years of sustained increases means that we are losing some of the gains we made in the late 1990s. We need to really focus on arresting that," Dr McAnulty said.
"We think that 412 people being diagnosed with HIV is 412 too many. Doctors tell us that people diagnosed with HIV regularly tell them 'I have a good life, but if there is one thing I would change about my life, I would love to be HIV negative'.
"The success in preventing further growth of the epidemic has relied on high rates of condom use by gay men. But the current rates of condom use are not enough to prevent new infections. The research tells us that HIV infection rates will continue to rise as long as the rate of unsafe sex remains as high as it currently is.
"The risk of getting HIV just keeps on rising. NSW Health is working closely with ACON as our key community partner and other health services to respond to this increase. Given the further increase in risk, we encourage gay men to use a condom and lube to protect themselves and their sexual partner from HIV," Dr McAnulty said.
Dr McAnulty said when practising safe sex with new and casual sex partners, it is important to always wear a condom to protect yourself against HIV infections and other sexually transmitted diseases.