New HIV diagnoses have fallen dramatically in Australia for a glaringly obvious reason

HIV study Australia

New HIV cases dropped significantly between 2012 and 2017 in Australia, and it’s thanks to more men being on effective medication, a new study has found.

The study found that the community prevalence of HIV decreased from 29 per cent in 2012 to 13 per cent in 2017. In that same period, researchers found a major uptake in the number of HIV-positive men on treatment.

The research was presented by Dr Denton Callander from the University of New South Wales on March 9 at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections, AIDSmap reports.

HIV is undetectable and untransmittable when a person is on effective treatment.

A wide-scale study last year effectively proved that HIV-positive men who are on effective antiretroviral treatment cannot pass the virus on through sex.

When treated effectively, a person with the virus will see their viral load – referring to the amount of the virus in the blood – decrease dramatically, making it undetectable and untransmittable.

This is the first large-scale study to look at how effective treatment can also act as HIV-prevention among the generally high-risk category of gay and bisexual men.

Using data from the Australian ACCESS database, researchers analysed anonymous information on sexually transmitted infections among gay and bisexual men.

This provides at least one kind of evidence in support of [treatment as prevention] as a public health strategy.

Looking at data from New South Wales and Victoria between 2012 and 2017, they found the number of men who had HIV and also estimated how many had the virus but had not been diagnosed.

The study also found that less gay and bisexual men were living with undiagnosed HIV, down from 11 per cent in 2012 to 9 per cent in 2017.

Speaking at the conference, Callander said: “This provides at least one kind of evidence in support of [treatment as prevention] as a public health strategy.

“It suggests that Australia’s investment in [treatment as prevention] and treatment generally seems to really have had a public health payoff.”

The numbers started declining before the wide-scale availability of PrEP in Australia.

Notably, researchers also pointed out that these rates started to drop before pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) was widely available in Australia. PrEP, when taken daily, prevents people from contracting the virus through unprotected sex.

However, research has also proven that effective HIV treatment for those living with the virus significantly reduces the risk of passing it on.

Last year, the PARTNER2 study looked at male same-sex couples where one party is HIV-positive and the other is not. Throughout the period of the study, the men did not use condoms during sex.

Over the course of eight years, just 15 of the HIV-negative men contracted HIV, effectively proving that effective antiretroviral treatment renders HIV undetectable and untransmittable.