Test often and treat early to prevent HIV in western Sydney

New South Wales Chief Health Officer Dr Kerry Chant this week released the NSW HIV Strategy 2021–2025, which aims to achieve the virtual elimination of HIV transmission in NSW.

NSW is a world leader in responding to HIV. The Strategy builds on the success of its predecessor, which saw substantial improvements in HIV prevention, testing and treatment in NSW.

In 2020, 206 NSW residents were diagnosed with HIV, a decrease of 33 per cent compared to the average for the last five years.

Only 31 per cent of these new diagnoses had evidence that their infection occurred in the preceding 12 months, a decrease of 47 per cent relative to the last five years.

Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre clinical nurse consultant Melissa Power and health promotion officer Kevin Dong.

A recent staff survey, organised by Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre (WSSHC), has identified why people attending Western Sydney Local Health District (WSLHD) services may miss out on being offered a test for HIV.

Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre director Professor David Lewis said it’s a belief many of WSLHD’s residents are not at risk of HIV because they don’t fit particular stereotypes.

The large decline in 2020 diagnoses, particularly for early stage infections, suggests HIV transmission decreased throughout the year.

It’s also driven by the effects of the COVID-19 pandemic, including restricted movement, altered health-seeking behaviour, lower levels of casual sex activity, as well as altered service provision and access.

“Over the longer term, our success in HIV transmission is the result of a combination of strategies, including promotion of condom use, access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) antiviral drugs, commencing people on antiviral treatment sooner after diagnosis, treatment as prevention, and harm reduction strategies such as the Needle and Syringe Program,” Dr Chant said.

NSW Health has invested $105.9 million to strengthen testing, treatment and prevention over the five years to June 2021.

To continue the momentum, the 2021–2025 HIV Strategy will:

  • Address the barriers to testing and treatment created by stigma and discrimination;
  • Adapt, pilot and implement new technologies, including telehealth solutions;
  • Focus additional efforts on priority populations who have not experienced the same level of recent success, including culturally and linguistically diverse and overseas-born MSM, MSM younger than 25, and MSM living in outer Sydney and regional NSW.

Dr Chant said progressing the new Strategy would draw on NSW Health’s strong partnerships between at-risk and affected communities, clinicians, GPs and researchers.

“We must build on our successes and respond to the challenges introduced by COVID-19. HIV testing and PrEP use decreased in 2020, likely due to the impact of COVID restrictions and reduced casual sex activity,” Dr Chant said.

“It is vital that HIV testing and PrEP use increases in 2021, especially in priority populations.”

People at risk of HIV can get tested confidentially and easily at their local GP, sexual health service, or at home with a Dried Blood Spot testing kit. It is important that people at risk take HIV Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) and use condoms.

“Early testing and diagnosis linked to treatment prevents transmission. People with HIV who are linked to care and treatment can enjoy a long and healthy life,” Dr Chant said.

HIV testing is available at Western Sydney Sexual Health Centre sites. Please click here for locations and details.