Cases of gonorrhea and syphilis are increasing in Australia, according to the most recent Annual Surveillance Report on HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections (STIs) in Australia.
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The report, which has been released by the Kirkby Institute at UNSW Sydney, says that gonorrhea has increased by 63% over the past five years, particularly among heterosexual individuals living in major cities.
“Rising rates in this group highlight the need for initiatives to raise awareness among clinicians and young people about the importance of testing,” says Rebecca Guy, head of the Surveillance, Evaluation and Research Program at the Kirby Institute.
The report also says that among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, the chlamydia rate was three time higher than among the non-indigenous population and the gonorrhea rate was seven times higher. Since 2011, syphilis rates have also risen among young individuals in these indigenous peoples.
James Ward from the South Australian Health and Medical Research Institute says comprehensive strategies are needed to reduce STIs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples:
Initiatives underway to address the syphilis resurgence include enhanced testing and treatment, and culturally appropriate health promotion campaigns.”
The report also showed that HIV rates have remained stable over the last five years. In 2016, there were 1,013 new cases diagnosed. Guy says this is due to an increased uptake of HIV testing in Australia, especially among gay and bisexual men, the demographic most affected by HIV in Australia. Treatment rates are also improving, with 86% of people diagnosed with HIV on treatment in 2016.
There is also some good news about hepatitis C. Estimates show that more than 30,000 people were cured of hepatitis C between March and December 2016 due to new direct acting antiviral therapy becoming available.
Jason Grebely, also from the Kirkby Institute, says these new therapies have been game-changers for hepatitis C in Australia: “Our estimates indicate that the number of people with hepatitis C who have advanced liver disease has fallen for the first time in 10 years. This is excellent news, but to achieve hepatitis C elimination in Australia we must sustain our efforts to ensure all people living with hepatitis C are tested and have access to these cures.”