Condoms essential for prevention amid rising rates of HIV

HIV infections are increasing, despite fewer deaths from AIDS, and the use of condoms during sex is necessary to fight the problem.

Rates of HIV infections are rising, but fewer people are dying from AIDS, data from the Kirby Institute for infection and immunity in society says. 

The human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) causes acquired immune deficiency syndrome (AIDS), which leads to death without treatment.

The Kirby Institute's Professor Andrew Grulich said an HIV diagnosis was no longer a death sentence.

“Generally, people with HIV don’t get AIDS anymore," Prof Grulich said.

The growth in HIV infections was 4 per cent for the average year during the decade ending 2013, compared to Australia’s average yearly population growth of 1.6 per cent the same decade.

Part of the reason for growing infection numbers included changing perceptions, Prof Grulich said.

Today HIV can be treated as a chronic manageable condition.

“In the old days a person who got HIV would die,” Prof Grulich said.

“New treatments are great. People stay alive for a normal life span.

Traditionally the HIV-AIDS cycle would consist of contracting an HIV infection, usually from unsafe sex, developing AIDS 10 years later and dying two years after that.

“ are more people living with HIV and changing perceptions of what HIV means, leading to increases in unsafe sex,” Prof Grulich said.

Traditionally the HIV-AIDS cycle would consist of contracting an HIV infection, usually from unsafe sex, developing AIDS 10 years later and dying two years after that, Prof Grulich said.

He said anal sex remained the most common way to contract HIV, and wearing condoms was important.

"Condom use remains the centre of HIV prevention," Prof Grulich said.

Prof Grulich said gay men used condoms during casual sex at higher rates than heterosexual people with casual sexual partners.

When gay men have sex with a casual partner, they are more likely to use a condom with that partner than are heterosexual men, Prof Grulich said.

Among people who inject drugs seen at needle and syringe programs who were tested for HIV or hepatitis C, more homosexual than heterosexual men reported having used a condom during their last sexual intercourse in the same month, the Kirby Institute's report says.

However, many gay men do not wear condoms and they are still the most at-risk group. 

Another statistic from the Centre for Social Research in Health said the proportions of homosexual men who always use condoms during anal sex had declined in the past decade.

However, Professor Grulich said men who had casual sex with men used condoms at a higher rate than hetoresexual men who had casual sex.

Tonight on SBS2 at 7:30pm, The Feed looks at why the number of HIV infections reached their highest point in 2012 for more than 15 years. The program takes a look at a new treatment, Truvada, which has been found to be effective at preventing HIV.

There are an estimated 180,000 to 200,000 men who have sex with men in Australia.

In 2013, men who have sex with other men accounted for 70 per cent of people diagnosed with HIV the same year.

While condoms and medicine can halt the spread, investment in prevention is also important. 

During the decade ending 2013, the largest growth in HIV infections was outside NSW, the data from the Kirby Institute’s report supplement said.

Prof Grulich said HIV infection numbers in NSW had remained flat.

“NSW has invested more heavily in prevention services,” he said.

The Feed airs at 7.30pm on weekdays on SBS 2.

Source: SBS