Victoria’s HIV cases at highest level in 20 years

By Carol Nader, The Age  (10 March 2007)

NEW reports of HIV have reached their highest level in Victoria in 20 years, prompting criticism that State G0overnment efforts to reduce the numbers have failed.

The Department of Human Services was notified of 334 cases of HIV last year, 17 per cent higher than the 285 in 2005 and the highest number since 1987.

But the Government says 70 of the notifications were for people who had first tested HIV-positive in another state or country. A doctor tested them again here and by law must alert the department.

When that is taken into account, there were 264 new diagnoses last year and 242 in 2005 — a rise of 9 per cent. The figure is double the number of new diagnoses in 1999.

The latest rise has prompted Michael Wooldridge, chairman of the Federal Government’s advisory committee on sexually transmissible infections (STIs), to say: “The effort in Victoria has been an abject failure.”

In NSW, the number of new cases has been stable since they peaked at 414 in 2003. They fell to 391 in 2005, and the AIDS Council of NSW expects the final 2006 figure to reflect a further reduction of at least 10 per cent to about 346.

Dr Wooldridge, a former Howard Government health minister, praised the “spectacularly successful” efforts of NSW.

“There’s a great challenge for the Victorian Government to show leadership here, and NSW has shown that leader- ship in this area can make an enormous difference,” he said.

Victorian Health Minister Bronwyn Pike said the rise in HIV notifications was concerning and authorities would have to examine ways of spreading the safe-sex message. The State Government announced an extra $2.7 million in funding for HIV and other STIs in October.

But the money still hasn’t been allocated because tendering is under way.

The executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS organisations, Don Baxter, said the NSW Government had taken action to reduce new HIV infections as soon as the numbers started to rise.

However, the Victorian Government had been slow in allocating new funding.

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