Every December 1st is World AIDS Day and the theme in Queensland this year is “End HIV”. Progress against stemming the epidemic of HIV worldwide has been truly remarkable over the last 15-20 years. HIV changed from being perceived as a disease of minority disadvantaged populations to something that went to the top of the political agenda and was shown to be of relevance to everyone. Research and pharmaceutical funding followed and as a consequence produced the largest range of new pharmaceuticals in the shortest space of time for any medical condition ever. A disease that was uniformly fatal became one that was controllable, with a normal life span and a normal quality of life.
Despite all of the perceived and real logistical issues of delivery of care, greater awareness, more testing and better treatments mean that the incidence of new cases around the world is falling almost everywhere. But HIV and AIDS is not beaten yet. There are still around 35 million people HIV infected worldwide with a million deaths each year and two million new infections.
As part of the Queensland HIV Action Plan 2016-2021, Queensland Health is committed to working towards the virtual elimination of new HIV transmissions in Queensland. Early detection and testing is now easier and more accessible thanks to rapid HIV point-of-care testing introduced across Queensland.
Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, or PrEP, for HIV has proven very effective at preventing transmission and it is likely that PrEP will prevent many new HIV notifications in Queensland. In a collaboration between Queensland AIDS Council, the University of Queensland, the Cairns Sexual Health Service and Queensland Health, the PrEP Demonstration Project (QPrEPd Study) is providing a significant step forward in HIV prevention, and giving up to 3,000 at-risk Queenslanders access to PrEP through the study.
In Queensland new HIV infections have decreased and AIDS is now rarely seen, but in 2016 there were still 195 new diagnoses of HIV in Queensland. That’s a 4 per cent decrease on the previous year, but there is still some way to go. HIV is still a major global health issue and the focus in December from World AIDS Day aims to break down barriers and maintain everyone’s awareness about the virus and how it is transmitted.