The AIDS Foundation says it could get rid of new HIV infections in New Zealand within 10 years.
Executive Director Shaun Robinson says there are new prevention tools which could bring the epidemic to a halt but its work is being hampered. People living with HIV but at only low levels are not yet eligible for government funded treatment. He thinks that should change.
Shaun Robinson says New Zealand has been very effective in dealing with the epidemic through the wide use of condoms, but now the Foundation is setting up a trial of a drug called PrEP which actually stops people getting infected in the first place, if they don’t use condoms. Shaun Robinson says tests overseas have proved the drug is effective, but the AIDS Foundation wants to determine whether people most at need here will take it regularly. PrEP is not yet funded by Pharmac as a preventative and costs users $1,200 a month.
At present people with low levels of HIV who don’t pass the so-called CD4 threshold are not eligible for funded treatment. The AIDS Foundation is advocating to have the threshold withdrawn, as recommended by the World Health Organisation.
This year the Foundation is also bumping up the number of “rapid” HIV tests it does and it wants to track down the estimated 600+ people in this country who are HIV-positive but don’t know it.
He says if New Zealand were to introduce blanket testing for everyone in New Zealand, the country could probably end the epidemic in a year. But that’s not likely to happen because of the expense.
However he thinks it could cost the country up to $1 million to treat each HIV-positive person over a lifetime, so prevention can have a big impact on the health system’s bottom line.
Shaun Robinson says the AIDS Foundation does not make any moral judgements about sex, as people have a right to as much or as little sex as they choose. However they have a responsibility to maintain the sexual health of their sexual partners, and the Foundation’s job is to reduce harm.
There’re an estimated 3,000 people living with HIV in New Zealand. 1,000 of them either don’t know, or they aren’t being treated because their infections levels are low. Each year about 200 people here are newly diagnosed as HIV-positive. 50 of them have been infected overseas. 80 percent of new infections are men who have sex with men.