Tagged with Victoria

HIV infections aren’t going up, they’re going down

The annual HIV surveillance figures are out today and, as usual, there is lots of reporting of apparently bad figures. “Australians newly diagnosed with HIV totalled 1050 during 2009, the highest number in almost two decades,” according to this AAP story.

Indeed, there was a rise in HIV diagnoses last year, and we’ve crossed the seemingly symbolic 1000-cases barrier, and that is of course significant cause for concern. But HIV diagnoses have been up around the 1000 mark for several years now, and deaths from AIDS are at an all-time low – just nine people were reported to have died from AIDS-related causes in 2009, a piece of good news that the media has pretty much ignored. Because of this, the number of people living with HIV in Australia has risen every year, and so the number of new HIV diagnoses should be read in that context.

The chart below shows what happens when you do. The blue and green lines show the number of HIV diagnoses per year since 2000, and the consequent raw incidence rate per 100,000 population. The pink line shows the raw incidence rate per 100 people living with HIV, and shows a clear downward trend since 2005, as HIV infections have not risen in proportion to the number of positive people living in Australia. (Click the image to see a larger version).

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To my mind, this is a significant piece of good news that the media has ignored. But that’s not surprising as NCHECR’s annual surveillance report doesn’t include this measure, making a ‘bad news’ interpretation of the data almost inevitable.

That falling pink line suggests that positive people are succeeding in preventing onward HIV transmission. With a larger HIV-positive population, you’d naturally expect more HIV transmission to occur, yet this isn’t happening.

If this falling incidence rate were acknowledged, we could begin to ask why it is so. What has changed since 2005 to reduce HIV incidence, and how can we extend that success? Reported rates of unprotected sex among gay men have risen during that period, so how do we explain this apparently contradictory effect? These are important, and potentially valuable, questions.

HIV incidence is falling, not rising, when you take into account the growing positive population. This is something we should be celebrating, and for which positive people should be congratulated, instead of focusing on raw numbers that give a skewed perception of the epidemiology of HIV in Australia.

There are several caveats to the data I used for the chart. Most of the data came from the published NCHECR surveillance reports, which can be found here and from ABS population data. The 2010 report isn’t up yet, so I have taken the figures for 2009 from today’s media reports. And as I say, I’m no statistician, so I will accept criticism of my methods with my usual sanguine humour.

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Everybody hurts: TAC at 20

It’s 20 years tonight since the first shock TV advertisements by Victoria’s Transport Accident Commission were aired. Visitors from overseas are often surprised at the brutality of these adverts, which have been credited with a 50% reduction of the Victorian road toll over the last two decades.

This montage will be screened tonight at 8:30pm on all free-to-air channels in Victoria. It’s quite graphic in parts but gives an indication of the types of campaigns that have been run.

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World AIDS Day launch

These are my remarks for the launch of World AIDS Day 2009 this morning at Parliament House in Melbourne.

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Since its inception in 1988, World AIDS Day has provided a moment for all of us to reflect on the impact HIV has had in our lives and communities, to recommit ourselves to ending the HIV epidemic, and to remind the broader community that, while HIV may have almost disappeared from the headlines, it is still with us.

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Victorian government publishes list of towns that won’t be there next year

…or something like that.

There are 52 towns in Victoria which are at high risk for the 2009-10 fire season, according to a list issued by the state government today. Here is a map (click to enlarge) showing the towns listed:

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The Victorian Government says the nominated centres will be its priorities for developing township protection plans.

“The work that we’ve been doing over recent months has identified a number of areas … 52 towns, which for a variety of reasons are more at risk or more vulnerable to fire, should it occur in the next fire season,” Mr Brumby said.

“These could be towns that are built in the middle of bushland, they could be towns that are on the coast that have a huge holiday population and only one road in, and one road out.”

“We’ve got a fire season coming up, that on all the evidence we’ve got… is going to be worse than the one we’ve just experienced.” — ABC

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