HIV/AIDS in Australia

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Australia's Epidemic

When it comes to HIV and AIDS Australia considers itself lucky. Compared to a lot of developed countries, including America and many in Western Europe, it has a relatively low rate of HIV infection.

In 2003 it was estimated that less than 14,000 people were infected with HIV. And since the disease was first heard about back in the 1980s there have been an estimated 21,000 people diagnosed with HIV, 9,400 cases of AIDS and around 6,400 reported deaths from AIDS-related illnesses.

The figures aren’t too horrific figures compared with some countries. Per capita the AIDS incidence in Australia works out at about 1.5 to every 100,000, which is roughly similar to that in the UK. In America the figure is more like 15 to every 100,000.

Both HIV and AIDS are far more prevalent among Australian men than women. In 2003 nearly 700 men were diagnosed with HIV compared to 83 women. For AIDS the figure was 279 and 10 respectively.

This disparity between the sexes is hardly surprising. In a high income country like Australia, which doesn’t have the poverty and poor healthcare of many developing countries, HIV has traditionally been regarded as a “gay disease.” The continent’s latest HIV/AIDS figures have done nothing to dispel that view - around 85% of people newly diagnosed with the HIV infection between 1999 and 2003 had been in some form of male homosexual relationship.

The rate of HIV among people who turn up at drug rehab programs and among those seen at sexual health clinics is right at the other end of the scale at just below one per cent.

Interestingly the number of people diagnosed with the virus peaked in the early days of the epidemic and then went into a major decline over the following 13 years – going from 7,116 cases of HIV and 797 of AIDS in 1985 to 692 and 208 respectively in 2001. This decline is put down to education among high risk groups such as the gay community and injecting drug users. Needle exchange programs were introduced and wearing a condom practically became a national symbol.

Certainly the number of AIDS cases has fallen thanks to very effective anti HIV drugs which are delaying the onset of the full blown disease in a larger number of people.

Both HIV and AIDS are more common in New South Wales where around 13,500 people are living with HIV. That’s not surprising because the territory includes the major city, Sydney. Infection is far less common in Tasmania where in 2003 just 96 people were diagnosed with HIV and 52 with AIDS.

Nearly 70% of AIDS/HIV cases in Australia involve people who were born there. But the country is taking no chances.

People are emigrating to Oz in their hundreds every day, lured by the laid back lifestyle and year round sunshine. And the Australian government doesn’t want them bringing any viruses with them. If you’ve tested HIV positive you don’t have much chance of gaining Australian citizenship these days.

To some this may appear rather brutal or even discriminatory but the Australians argue that they need to be able to control the problem they already have without adding to it.


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