New HIV data for 2016 released today: alarming trends for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

New HIV data for 2016 released today: alarming trends for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people

The Kirby Institute (UNSW) surveillance report on STIs and viral hepatitis in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander People 2017, released on 6 November, is cause for alarm.

The new data for STIs among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people show no abatement in alarming rates of STIs – with data extremely high for chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis in regional and remote areas.

Rates of hepatitis C continue to climb for Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people – especially among younger people aged less than 25 years.

Leading researchers* wrote in an article for The Conversation  today that the HIV data is cause for particular concern. Over the last 5 years there has been a 33% increase in the rate of new HIV diagnoses in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community, and at the same time a 22% decrease among Australian born non-Indigenous people.  This has created another gap in health outcomes between Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people and non-Indigenous Australians. The rate of diagnosis is now more than double that of non-Indigenous Australians.

A/Prof James Ward, Head of infectious Diseases Research – Aboriginal Health, at the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute (SAHMRI) says:

‘This should not be happening in 2017 when we have all the answers at hand to prevent HIV  – including PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis) and strategies such as Treatment as Prevention, which aims to prevent HIV at a population level by reducing transmissions.

‘It is likely that the different exposure categories are contributing to the divergence in rates, because health promotion efforts are concentrated toward the main population group affected by HIV in Australia, gay men and other men who have sex with men. This health promotion misses women.

‘This data highlights the need for culturally relevant HIV prevention programs for Aboriginal people. We need enhanced community education, targeted testing and treatment initiatives – including access to PrEP, and greater access to sterile needle and syringes, and drug dependence treatment for people who inject drugs’, says A/Prof Ward.

The new data serve to emphasise the importance of Commonwealth funded SAHMRI projects that aim to increase STI and blood-borne virus testing and treatment rates for people among Aboriginal and Torres Strait communities, including:

Access the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander STI and BBV data  here.

Access the Kirby Institute media release here.

* Article authors

  1. Research Fellow, UNSW

  2. Professor of Medicine, Clinical Researcher and Epidemiologist, UNSW

  3. Associate Professor, Infectious Diseases Research Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health, South Australian Health & Medical Research Institute

  4. Research Officer, UNSW

  5. Associate Professor of Epidemiology & Program Head of Surveillance Evaluation and Research, UNSW