6 Dec 2015

Rise in HIV infection rate numbers

8:13 am on 6 December 2015

Rates of HIV transmission are climbing and more action is needed to curb the spread of the virus, say researchers.

A 3d rendered illustration of HIV.

A 3d rendered illustration of HIV. Photo: 123rf

A paper published in the latest New Zealand Medical Journal shows last year 126 gay or bisexual men were infected with HIV - the highest number ever recorded.

Its authors are calling for major policy changes, including government-funded quarterly screening for high-risk individuals, home-testing, and immediate access to anti-retroviral drugs after diagnosis.

Peter Saxton from Auckland University, Anthony Hughes from the Aids Foundation and infectious disease specialist Massimo Giola said this approach in Australia had resulted in a 44 percent in HIV diagnoses in the first year.

They said with quick action, New Zealand could become the first country to virtually eliminate HIV transmission.

The researchers also want Pharmac to scrap its policy of only funding drugs for those with a certain level of infected cells in their blood.

The Aids Foundation says HIV rates in New Zealand are still much lower than in other countries, despite the record number of infections last year.

Aids Foundation executive director Shaun Robinson said while high rates of condom use had kept the virus relatively contained, more could be done.

"What's really exciting, it's developed in the last year or two in the scientific community, is that there are now some new tools that can be used to prevent the spread of HIV and it is actually now possible that we could wipe this out as a disease."

Mr Robinson said drugs to stop people getting HIV were not currently approved in New Zealand.

HIV medication cost taxpayers more than $26 million last year - up from $14.6 million in 2010.

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