Record High Number Of HIV-Positive Gay Men With An Undetectable Viral Load


Rapid HIV test

New research has shown that a record 92 per cent of gay and bisexual men living with HIV are on treatment and achieving an undetectable viral load.

Having an undetectable viral load means the men can’t pass HIV on to others. That number is at a record high for the third year in a row, according to the Annual Report of Trends in Behaviour 2018 released by researchers at UNSW’s Centre for Social Research in Health this week.

The research also found the proportion of gay men with casual partners who were using PrEP had increased from one per cent in 2013 to 16 per cent in 2017.

PrEP, which stands for pre-exposure prophylaxis, is a once-daily pill that has been found to dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission in HIV-negative people, in conjunction with other safe sex measures.

Gay Community Periodic Surveys Project Leader Professor Martin Holt attributed that increase to the establishment of the state-funded PrEP trials in NSW, Victoria and Queensland in 2016.

“PrEP and treatment as prevention (TasP) are becoming increasingly popular HIV prevention strategies used by gay and bisexual men, particularly those well connected to the urban gay community networks,” Holt said.

“Now that PrEP is available through the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, the challenge is to achieve greater prevention coverage of all people at risk of HIV, including those who are Medicare-ineligible, in order to achieve targets for the elimination of HIV transmission.”

Annual HIV statistics

According to new data from The Kirby Institute, gay and bisexual men remain the highest proportion of new HIV diagnoses in Australia, accounting for almost two-thirds of all infections, but diagnoses had decreased 15% in the past year.

The report also found that over 40 per cent of non-HIV-positive gay men had at least three tests within the preceding year – equating to around one test every 4 months, on average.

But new HIV diagnoses attributed to heterosexual sex have risen 10 per cent over the past five years and 14 per cent between 2016 and 2017.

And among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations, HIV diagnoses have also been increasing over the past five years, with rates almost two times higher than the Australian-born non-Indigenous population in 2017.

“Many populations have been less well engaged by existing approaches to HIV prevention, including straight-identified men who have sex with men, people from migrant or refugee backgrounds, women, and adolescents and young people,” CSHR Associate Professor Christy Newman said.

The Kirby Institute’s key findings

  • There were 963 new HIV diagnoses in Australia 2017, the lowest number of diagnoses since 2010, with a 7% decline over the last five years, and a 5% decline between 2016 and 17.
  • Male‑to‑male sex continues to be the major HIV risk exposure in Australia, reported for 607 (63%) HIV diagnoses in 2017, with heterosexual sex reported for 238 (25%) diagnoses, both male‑to‑male sex and injecting drug use for 53 (5%) diagnoses and injecting drug use for 33 (3%) diagnoses.
  • The decrease in overall new HIV diagnoses is attributed to an 11% decline in new HIV diagnoses reporting male‑to‑male sex as likely exposure over the past five years, and a 15% decline between 2016 and 2017.
  • In comparison, there was a 10% increase between 2013 and 2017 in diagnoses reporting heterosexual sex, with a 14% increase between 2016 and 2017.
  • Of 238 HIV diagnoses in 2017 that were attributed to heterosexual sex, 61% (145) were in males, and 54% (128) were in people born in Australia.