World AIDS Day 2006

Can't Afford to Wait Until It's Too Late.

On December 1 World AIDS Day 2006 the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), the national organisation representing people who inject drugs calls for some urgent action to prevent an increase in HIV infections among people who inject drugs. Louise Grant, AIVL's President stated "This World AIDS Day is a timely wake up call for everyone involved in HIV prevention to remind them that we cannot afford any complacency when it comes to HIV and injecting drug use".

Latest surveillance data is showing that between 2001-2005 18 percent of new HIV diagnoses among Indigenous Australians were attributed to unsafe injecting drug use compared to HIV rates of less than 3 percent in non-indigenous injecting drug users for the same period. In addition, latest data also suggests we may be seeing an increase in HIV prevalence among prison entrants, both male and female, since 2003. (Annual Surveillance Report, 2006, NCHECR) Ms. Grant continued, .As a community we cannot afford to wait until we are seeing major increases in HIV infection rates among people who inject drugs to act. Although over the past 20 years we have managed to keep HIV prevalence very low among people who inject drugs in Australia, the experience in many other countries has shown that HIV infection rates can change rapidly in populations of people who inject drugs.

In the late 1990s, HIV infection rates among people who inject drugs in Vancouver, Canada went from less than 3 percent to almost 30 percent in less than 12 months. Over the past 20 years Canada has also seen a 500 percent increase in HIV infections among Indigenous Canadians with 60 percent of these infections being among people who inject drugs.

Annie Madden, AIVL Executive Officer stated that .The Canadian experience highlights for us just how quickly things can change when it comes to HIV infection rates and injecting drug use. International experience shows that once HIV reaches 10 percent in populations of people who inject drugs it is extremely difficult to bring those rates down. We are currently seeing just how devastating a major HIV epidemic among people who inject can be in a number of Asian countries in our region and in many Central and Eastern European countries. We cannot just put our head in the sand and hope it won.t happen here.

The Federal Government.s National HIV/AIDS Strategy 2005-2008 emphasises the continued importance of peer education and harm reduction strategies to prevent any increase in HIV among Australians who inject drugs and the dangers associated with diminishing our commitment in these areas.

The fact that there has not been a major national HIV prevention education campaign targeting people who inject drugs in Australia for over 10 years is simply not good enough. We cannot just rely on our past track record to prevent a new HIV epidemic among young people who inject drugs. We are already seeing worrying signs among some of the most marginalised drug users such as Indigenous people and people entering prison. Although the numbers involved in these increases may be small, the time to act is now while we still have the opportunity to maintain our excellent track record on this issue. concluded Ms Madden.