Sexual contact between men account to more than 70% cases of HIV

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Participants hold a rainbow flag during the annual gay pride parade march in Belgrade, Serbia, September 20, 2015. Reuters

Sussan Ley spoke in front of the international community during World AIDS Day Breakfast on Tuesday. With the theme, "Getting to Zero: Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths," the minister of health discussed  strategies to fight the disease.

“We’ve come a long way since the first cases of HIV/AIDS were identified in the early 1980s – a time where this illness resulted in many deaths and widespread fear in the community,” Ley said, as quoted in a press release. “World AIDS Day evolved as a way to bring order to this confusion and fear, and set us on the path for change.”

It was in 1988 that the World Health Organisation (WHO) declared Dec 1 as World AIDS Day to promote awareness of the disease and remember  the victims who died. Approximately 36.9 million people live with HIV around the globe. The minister mentions that by the end of 2014, the virus affected 27,150 people in Australia, alone.

“World AIDS Day reminds Australians to reflect how they can protect themselves from this illness, including through safer sex practices,” Ley added.  “It also ensures that people living with HIV can participate fully in the life of the community, free from stigma and discrimination.”

The minister was proud that the number of Australians with HIV remains lower than many countries. The government’s efforts coupled with the community’s support helped reduce the cases to more than half since its peak in the late 1980s. However, Ley insisted that this should not encourage everyone to remain complacent. She urged the global community to remain vigilant and to exhaust all efforts to eradicate the illness.

She lamented that sexual contact between men accounted more than 70 percent of the cases reported in 2014. Mother-to-child transmission among women in the sex industry remains low, though. She alarmed that the rates of Indigenous Australians are gradually increasing due to drug use and unprotected sex.

Antiretroviral medicines like Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) can significantly prevent HIV in Australia. She is frustrated how pharmaceutical companies wait for the approval to sell the medicines in the US before being allowed to market in Australia.

Nevertheless, she looks forward to the completion, assessment and application of PrEP trial projects taking place in NSW, Victoria and Queensland.  This will further expand the knowledge of HIV prevention among Australians.

“World AIDS Day is a time for us to take stock in our progress towards the Zero targets and how this can be achieved,” she concluded.  “I believe that through the shared commitments of governments, communities and all partners, these targets are possible.”

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