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Cases of HIV predicted to rise by 75% in Australia
  Adam Cresswell, Health editor | March 03, 2008
HIV infection rates are forecast to soar by nearly 75 per cent in parts of Australia over the next seven years, fuelled by a rise in unsafe sex between men.
An analysis of infection rates in the eastern states has shown that if trends continue, infections will rise by 73.5 per cent in Victoria, and by almost 20per cent in Queensland, by2015.
However, in NSW - originally the state worst affected by the HIV epidemic - the number of new cases is predicted to fall over the next seven years.
The report, released today by the University of NSW, studied the 44 per cent increase in the number of new annual HIV cases nationally in men who have sex with men from 1999 to 2006.
The biggest increase was in Victoria, which by 2006 had seen its annual number of new infections among gay men rise by 96 per cent from the 102 recorded in 1999. In Queensland, the number increased by 68 per cent from 85 in 1999, and in NSW, the 313 new infections reported in 1999 rose by just 7.3 per cent.
Condom use is known to dramatically cut the risk of HIV transmission. But even though researchers have previously found that condom use has been falling, David Wilson, the lead author of the report, said the reduction in condom use could account for only part of the increase in infections.
"The only way we could account for the increases that were observed is with the coupling of both the direct effects of the lack of protection due to decreased condom use, with the increase in other sexually transmitted infections also caused by decreased condom use," he said.
Having another sexually transmitted infection, such as gonorrhoea or syphilis, increases the risk of both acquiring HIV and passing the virus to an uninfected partner.
Dr Wilson - the head of the infectious diseases modelling unit at the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research at the UNSW - said the modelling showed that ultimately, lower condom use was driving rising HIV infection rates.
"That's why we want this (condom use) to be the aim of public health campaigns in future," he said.
Jonathan Anderson, president of the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine, said the increases in infection rates already seen in Victoria were bad enough, and "we would be very concerned to see rates like this (being forecast)".
"It would represent a failure of current approaches to the prevention of HIV infections," he said.
"It would mean we need to redouble our efforts to find new ways to engage with people about the behaviours that might put them at risk of HIV infections."
Dr Anderson said the Victorian Government was about to launch a new strategy in an attempt to rein in the recent rises seen in the state.
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