• Researchers believe a cure is now in reach for the HIV virus. (AAP)
Health experts are warning of an "unmanageable" HIV epidemic in Indigenous communities as two new reports show HIV rates in Australia remain stable at 20-year highs.
16 Jul 2014 - 7:24 PM  UPDATED 17 Jul 2014 - 9:05 PM

Two major reports say HIV diagnoses in Australia remain stable at 20-year highs, while gay men still report they're having unprotected casual sex.

An annual surveillance report says 1235 people were diagnosed with the virus last year.

A University of NSW report estimates almost 27,000 people are living with HIV in Australia, but about 14 per cent of them don't know they have HIV.

A second report by the University on Trends in Behaviours also shows unprotected anal intercourse among casual male partners continues to be a key transmitter of HIV among gay men in Australia.




Indigenous Australians most at risk of HIV epidemic

Health experts say Indigenous Australians are the most at risk of contracting HIV, with some warning of an "unmanageable" HIV epidemic in Indigenous communities if more isn't done to prevent the disease's spread.

The risk factors are four fold: high rates of sexually transmitted infections, increasing rates of injecting drug use,more women and heterosexuals affected by HIV and indigenous gay men engaging in risky behaviour.

That, along with higher-than-ever rates of diagnosis over the past two years, has Indigenous health experts concerned an epidemicis just around the corner.

"It's going to happen," deputy head of Aboriginal health atBaker IDI, Associate Professor James Ward told AAP.
"The ground is set for escalation to occur."
STIs affect Indigenous Australians at higher rates thannon-indigenous Australians, with a recent study showing rates ofgonorrhoea are 21 times higher, chlamydia four times and syphilisfive times.
The presence of other STIs increases the chance of contracting HIV if exposed.
Health experts have a precedent on which to base their concerns- Canadian aboriginal people make up about four per cent of thepopulation, yet account for about 12 per cent of new HIV and AIDscases.

Indigenous organisations are hoping an action plan will helpreduce the risk of similar problems in Australia.
The Eora Action Plan aims to reduce STIs and the sharing ofneedles, eliminate mother to child transmissions and makeanti-retroviral treatments accessible.
Assoc Prof Ward says the risk factors must be tackled head onbefore it's too late.
"(HIV infection) starts off slowly, exponentially increases and then it gets too hard to grab hold of it and manage it," he said.

"We just need to stop it before that happens."

Global AIDS-related deaths fall by more than a third

Global AIDS-related deaths and new HIV infections have fallen by more than a third in a decade, the United Nations says as it voiced hope of wiping out the killer disease.

The global effort to beat the pandemic has made huge strides, though the battle is far from over with 35 million people still living with HIV worldwide, said Michel Sidibe, head of UNAIDS.

"Ending the AIDS epidemic is possible," he said.

"We have a fragile five-year window to build on the rapid results that been made. The next five years will determine the next 15."

In a review of the pandemic released ahead of the 20th International AIDS Conference in Australia from July 20-25, the UN agency said AIDS-related deaths dropped to 1.5 million in 2013 from 1.7 million the previous year.

That was the sharpest annual decline since the peak hit in 2004 and 2005, and marked a 35-per cent drop from the 2.4 million deaths seen in both those years.

Alongside the falling death toll, new infections declined to 2.1 million last year, a 38-per cent fall compared to the 3.4 million people affected in 2001.

Globally, the report said, 35 million people were living with the virus in 2013, up from 34.6 million the previous year.

Of those, "19 million do not know their HIV-positive status," said Sidibe.

Africa hardest hit by HIV

Africa remains the hardest-hit continent, accounting for 1.1 million deaths in 2013, 1.5 million new infections, and 24.7 million people living with HIV.

Worldwide, South Africa remained the hardest-hit country, followed by Nigeria.

UNAIDS noted that in sub-Saharan Africa, access to condoms remained a major problem, with only eight available per year for each sexually-active person.

HIV infections jump in India, Indonesia

In Asia, concerns focus on India and Indonesia - infections in the latter have jumped by 48 per cent since 2005.

Efforts to increase the number of people getting access to life-saving anti-retroviral drugs have advanced fast, with 12.9 million now receiving treatment compared with 5.2 million in 2009, UNAIDS said.

While the hike is impressive, it falls short of a UN target announced two years ago to reach 15 million people by 2015.

Focus needs to be on marginalised groups: WHO

The international community has expressed repeated concern about vulnerable groups who can miss out on treatment in societies where they are marginalised.

The World Health Organisation recently called for greater efforts to treat gay men, transgender people, prisoners, people who inject drugs and sex workers, who together account for about half of all new HIV infections worldwide.

Despite huge progress in funding for the battle against AIDS - which rose from $US3.8 billion in 2002 to $US19.1 billion in 2013 - the UN is still short of its target of $US22-24 billion by 2015.

It says the investment will pay huge dividends, given that fewer deaths and less sickness takes a burden off the healthcare system, and enables HIV-positive people to work and contribute to the economy for longer.