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AIDS deaths up in Russia, against global trend
by Staff Writers
Moscow (AFP) July 16, 2014

New HIV cases in Australia at 20-year high
Sydney (AFP) July 17, 2014 - The number of new HIV cases in Australia remains at the highest level in 20 years, according to data Thursday which reveals many people are not being detected early enough.

The Annual HIV Surveillance report from the University of New South Wales' Kirby Institute found 1,235 new cases of the virus were diagnosed in 2013. There were 1,253 new infections in 2012.

"These are the highest levels we've had in 20 years," the institute's associate professor David Wilson said.

While the rates for the past two years have been stable, the 2013 figure represents a 70 percent rise since 1999, when diagnoses were at their lowest.

Wilson said the evidence suggested that the rise in cases was not due to more testing, but more likely a rise in unprotected sex, particularly among gay men.

The report estimated the number of people living with HIV in Australia at 26,800, but said that about one in seven of these do not know they carry the virus which causes AIDS.

Wilson said people were being diagnosed too late in the process, with about 30 percent detected well after they should have begun treatment to restore their damaged immune system.

"In some cases, people are living for several years without knowing they are HIV-positive," he said.

"This is a double concern: for their own health and that they could be passing the virus on to others.

"If people wait a long time before getting diagnosed, or if they do not start treatment once diagnosed, it is not as easy to recover."

The good news was that people with HIV were living longer, and the treatment rates for patients in Australia were among the world's best.

In Australia, about 60 percent of people living with HIV were on treatment in 2013 which suppressed the virus and reduced the risk of transmission.

"This is higher than almost anywhere else in the world and a great achievement," said Wilson. "In comparison, around 25 percent of people with HIV in the United States are on suppressive therapy."

The release of the data comes ahead of the 20th International AIDS Conference in Melbourne next week.

The number of deaths from AIDS is going up in Russia, contrary to a global downward trend, a senior Russian health official said Wednesday, blaming a lack of public education about HIV infection.

"Last year we registered 22,000 AIDS-related deaths, against 20,000 the year before," the head of the Russian Federal Agency against AIDS, Vadim Pokrovsky, told AFP.

Today, some 700,000 Russians are infected with HIV, Pokrovsky said.

"Generally Russians are very poorly informed and often do not go to the doctor until it is too late," he said, also blaming a lack of media coverage of HIV infection and AIDS.

"Russian media paid great attention to AIDS in the 1990s, when the virus was still almost non-existent in the country, but now seems to be tired of the topic," he said.

Each year, between 70,000 and 80,000 new cases of HIV infection are registered in Russia. "That's almost 200 cases per day," Pokrovsky said.

Most of the new infections -- 55 percent -- are caused by intravenous drug use, while 43 percent result from heterosexual contacts and only around one percent from gay sex, Pokrovsky said.

In Russia, where homosexuality was a crime during the Soviet era and then listed as a mental illness until 1999, "homosexual communities have always been and are still very closed and traditionally very well informed about the virus," Pokrovsky said.

A controversial law passed last year that bans "propaganda" of gay relationships to minors "has not changed the percentage of gay people among those infected with HIV," Pokrovsky said.

UNAIDS said Wednesday that the number of deaths from AIDS had fallen worldwide by more than 30 percent in a decade, as had the number of new HIV infections.

The number of people infected with HIV in Russia almost doubled between 2006 and 2012, despite a government decision to make fighting AIDS a national priority and to boost funding of health campaigns more than 20-fold in 2006.

HIV continues to be a relatively taboo subject in the Russian media, and some lawmakers have even mulled bills to set up a special database of those infected, who would be subjected to mandatory fingerprinting.

UNAIDS has suggested that Russia should allow drug addicts to take substitutes such as methadone -- currently illegal in the country -- to help reduce drug-related AIDS deaths.


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