World AIDS Day : “Can’t afford to wait until it’s too late”

World AIDS Day Media Release

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


On December 1 World AIDS Day 2009 the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AIVL), the national organisation representing people who inject drugs is calling for urgent action to prevent further increases in HIV infections among people who inject drugs.

Annie Madden, AIVL Executive Officer stated,

"This World AIDS Day is a wake-up call for everyone involved in HIV prevention to remind us that we cannot afford any complacency when it comes to HIV and injecting drug use".

Over the past 4 years we have witnessed a steady increase in new HIV diagnoses among Indigenous Australians being attributed to unsafe injecting drug use from 18% in 2004 to 22% in 2008. This compares to a stable HIV rate of less than 3 percent among non-Indigenous people who inject drugs across the same period. In addition, data also shows we are seeing an increase in HIV prevalence among new prison entrants, both male and female, over the same period. (Annual Surveillance Report, 2009, NCHECR)

Ms. Madden continued, "As a community we cannot afford to wait any longer before we take action to better understand and respond to this unfolding situation. 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 increased from less than 3% to almost 30% in less than 12 months. Over the past 20 years Canada has also seen a 500% increase in HIV infections among Indigenous Canadians with 60% of these infections being attributed to unsafe injecting drug use practices.

"The Canadian experience highlights for us just how quickly things can change when it comes to HIV infection rates and injecting drug use. Experience shows that once HIV rates start to climb towards 10% in populations of people who inject drugs it is extremely difficult to bring those rates down. We cannot just put our head in the sand and hope it won't happen here" Ms Madden stressed.

The Federal Government is currently developing a new National HIV/AIDS Strategy and a new Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander BBV & STI Strategy. During the strategy consultations AIVL has emphasised the importance of continued and increased investment and support in the areas of Needle & Syringe Programs (NSP), peer education and harm reduction to prevent further increases in HIV among Australians who inject drugs. The recently released 'Return on Investment 2 Report' highlighted once again a staggering $1.28 billion return on the Government's investment in NSP but equally stressed the dangers associated with a diminished commitment including the potential for significant increases in HIV and hepatitis infections.

"We cannot just rely on our past track record to prevent a new HIV epidemic among 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 total numbers involved in these increases may be small, a small number of HIV infections can rapidly translate into a major problem when injecting drug use is involved."

"The theme for this World AIDS Day is 'Take Action. No Discrimination'. AIVL is calling for action to prevent any further HIV infections among a group in our community who  routinely face barriers to accessing NSP and other HIV prevention services due to discrimination" concluded Ms Madden.