It is not every day one welcomes a story about NSW performing below the national average, but one can make an exception in the case of NSW being the only state where rates of newly acquired HIV infection had not risen.
There have been big increases in other states – in Queensland rates have risen by 48 per cent, followed by Victoria (40 per cent) and South Australia (34 per cent).
As part of [its] plan the [NSW] Government has recommitted itself to needle and syringe programs that have often come under fierce attack from conservative politicians and commentators. “While not condoning injecting drug use, the health system has a responsibility to take action to enable people who inject drugs to avoid HIV and other blood borne infections through access to means of prevention,” the State Government’s HIV strategy report said.
People who spoke a language other than English accounted for more than 40 per cent of heterosexual notifications in NSW and more than 10 per cent of all new infections in 2002-03. As a result NSW would set up a special agency to better educate this group about HIV treatment and prevention.
It is also devoting $300,000 to a multimedia campaign to raise awareness of HIV and other sexually transmitted infections in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities. “We want to ensure that Aboriginal people who have HIV or STIs are able to get those infections diagnosed early and to receive quality treatment and safeguard these communities against outbreaks of these diseases,” said the Minister for Health, John Hatzistergos.
The chief executive of the AIDS Council of NSW, Stevie Clayton, said the Government’s support for HIV prevention was “extremely encouraging”, as was the declining rate in NSW. “Of course our objective is to prevent any new infections from occurring, and we’re still very concerned that, on average, a new case of HIV is diagnosed in NSW almost every day.”
In 2005 there were 393 new HIV notifications in NSW, but 254 notifications in the first three quarters of last year. The total for 2006 was likely to be 340, a 14 per cent decrease, Ms Clayton said.
In Cloud Cuckoo Land no-one would ever use needles and no-one would have sex more than once a year, and then only with one’s sacramentally attached partner. If one had to give in to lust, one would merely masturbate in a vacuum-sealed room. This way, of course, no-one would ever get any kind of sexually or intravenously transmitted disease, except through some unforeseen carelessness in otherwise legitimate medical procedures.
But we don’t live in Cloud Cuckoo Land, unlike “conservative politicians and commentators”. So congratulations to the NSW government which has listened to those who inhabit the real world and are concerned to make a difference.
At the same time, it is tragic that there are any new cases of HIV reported. Don’t run away with the idea that now we have the magic drug cocktail that all is well. That cocktail is toxic and drastic, and management of the condition is difficult as anyone who has it or knows anyone who has it will tell you, even if for most lucky enough to be in a country like Australia where good treatment is available the chances are now good of maintaining a level of health for many years. The treatment is also hideously expensive, most of which cost is borne by the health system. Before the new antiretroviral drugs, on average, treating a person for AIDS cost more than the annual cost of educating 10 primary school students. Today the cost is even greater.