• May 28th, 2019

HIV cases have declined in New Zealand, University of Otago research shows

The news from Pakistan has been grim. Hundreds of children have in the last one month been tested positive for HIV in Rotadero in Sindh province, most of them aged below five. A doctor worried about some young patients unable to recover from fever probed deeper and found they had been infected with HIV. The cause is said to be unsterilised injections used by quacks.

Lessons perhaps from New Zealand will come in handy for the governments of India and Pakistan saddled with a growing population struggling for access to quality healthcare.

New Zealand has for the second year confirmed a fall in confirmed HIV cases with 178 in 2018, compared to 298 in 2017 and 251 in 2017.

Data released by the AIDS Epidemiology Group of the University of Otago in Dunedin, New Zealand, shows that the number of cases reported in 2018 was the lowest since 2012 and similar to the number of people diagnosed with HIV in the early and late 2000's.

HIV is the virus that can lead to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome or AIDS if not treated. It depletes the body's immune system, causing severe illness.

Dr Sue McAllister, leader of the AIDS Epidemiology Group, finds it “encouraging to see a reverse in the trend. We look forward to seeing whether this decline will be maintained,” she says.

According to the findings, the group most affected include gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men (MSM). Of the 178 people diagnosed, 112 were MSM and 27 were heterosexually infected (18 men and 9 women).

Means of infection is not reported for others, though only one person has been infected through mother-to-child transmission overseas, and one person possibly infected by injecting drug use. Six people report both injecting drug use and homosexual contact as a possible means of infection.

On what could have brought down the number of HIV infected people, Dr McAllister says since July 2017 HIV- infected individuals can start treatment immediately on diagnosis as the clinical threshold for receipt of subsidised anti-retroviral therapy has been removed.

In 2018, pre-exposure prophylaxis became available in New Zealand to prevent infection for individuals at high risk of HIV.

The new measures, condom use, regular and early HIV testing and screening might have brought down the numbers, says Dr McAllister.

Such measures should continue and used for other sexually transmitted diseases as well, she adds.