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NSW has recorded a 51 per cent drop in new HIV infections compared to the average over the past five years, according to the latest NSW Health data.
The record breaking low number of infections is on track to make NSW one of the first places in the world to eliminate HIV before the global target of 2030.
NSW Health shows the state recorded a total of 178 new HIV infections last year.
Health experts believe the substantial drop in cases is partly because of preventative medical treatments and partly due to community caution during the COVID-19 pandemic.
“This decline in diagnoses is encouraging but is also driven by the effects of COVID-19, including restricted movement, altered health-seeking behaviour, lower levels of casual sex activity and testing, as well as altered service provision and access,” a NSW Health spokesperson said.
“New ways to prevent, test and treat mean that the virtual elimination of HIV transmission in NSW, once inconceivable, is now a realistic and achievable goal.”
According to the data, HIV testing and PrEP increased in 2021, but is still lower than before the pandemic.
The state’s HIV Strategy is a plan to eliminate HIV transmission by 90 per cent.
“The goals of the strategy are to prevent transmission, normalise testing, start treatment soon after diagnosis, maintain it for a healthy life, and reduce stigma,” NSW Health said.
The development comes as important news to 27-year-old Sydney man, Liam*, who said after he was diagnosed with HIV in 2018, the news plays on his mind everyday.
Liam said stigma encourages his inability to talk freely about his prognosis and said the less people impacted by the virus, “the better”.
He said his living with HIV feels “very terminal”.
“I am from a country town, I went to a private school and I am bisexual – I am sure all of these factors point to how I feel living with HIV.
“I’m very blessed to live in a time where I know I’m not going to die of something like AIDS.”
NSW’s latest HIV Strategy report shows testing for HIV was 12 per cent lower last year than during 2019, but rates increased once people began to emerge from lockdown.
There were 541,800 HIV serology tests in the state in 2021, similar to the 547,287 recorded in 2020.
Testing in public sexual health clinics has dropped since mid-2020, however an increase was seen in the October-to-December.
Liam said he was extremely sick with bronchitis leading up to his diagnosis and knew there was something more serious impacting his health.
When he went to see The Book of Mormon with his parents, he said “everything was an AIDS joke and I just couldn’t find it funny”. The show, he believes, triggered him to get tested.
“The next week I went to the doctor and said ‘test everything under the sun’.”
*Name changed to protect privacy.