Tough new targets to curb HIV infections

Targets ... NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner.
Targets ... NSW Health Minister, Jillian Skinner.

NSW will become the first state in the country to adopt binding targets to drastically cut new HIV infections.

Experts say Australia has dropped the ball in HIV/AIDS prevention, with the annual number of new infections increasing over the past 10 years.

New infections among gay men will be cut by 60 per cent in 2015, and 80 per cent in 2020, as part of binding targets to be announced by the Minister for Health, Jillian Skinner.

New infections among indigenous people will be cut by 50 per cent by 2015, and 90 per cent of people with the virus will be on antiretroviral medications.

Mrs Skinner said relatively high rates of HIV in NSW made the plan more urgent.

''It is pretty bold but if you don't aim for these things then you miss the boat,'' she said. The higher targets for gay men were because most new cases were among gays.

Mrs Skinner said NSW would improve early diagnosis, as well as establish a partnership with the federal government to increase access to drugs.

''At the moment there is a delay in getting treatment,'' she said. ''We want to be able to reduce the time between infection and diagnosis from 4½ years to 1½ years,'' she said.

Nearly two-thirds of newly diagnosed HIV cases are not newly acquired but rather infections that have not been picked up, surveillance figures from the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW show.

The plan would also roll out rapid testing for HIV if it is approved by the federal government, and introduce one-stop testing, with people able to receive results by phone or SMS.

The chief executive of the AIDS Council of NSW, Nicolas Parkhill, said the AIDS organisations had been frustrated by the lack of access to rapid testing.

''It's very frustrating that the only way people can access rapid testing is through trial sites.'' Mr Parkhill said the whole system would need to be reoriented, allowing easier access to testing through shop-front clinics.

''I think all the partners involved in the HIV response need to look at what they are doing and think about what could be done differently,'' he said. ''But I think NSW is really leading the way as a result of this strategy''.

Mrs Skinner will announce the targets at a World AIDS Day function on Saturday, along with the establishment of a high-level implementation committee led by the HIV expert Bill Whittaker.

Bill Bowtell, the executive director of the Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, said the establishment of targets was vital to stopping the rise of HIV.

''It's like anything in government, whether it's reducing carbon emissions or restoring the Murray Darling, you have to have a firm target. You can't just say 'Maybe we will'; you have to have a measure of success or failure,'' said Mr Bowtell.

The executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS organisations, Rob Lake, said there had been huge improvements in life expectancy since AIDS was first diagnosed in Australia 30 years ago.

This story Tough new targets to curb HIV infections first appeared on The Sydney Morning Herald.