29 May 2010
Sydney: Experts have called for a new HIV awareness campaign after it was seen that venereal disease among young Australians has skyrocketed.
According to federal government figures, the number of chlamydia cases doubled to 60,000 over the four years to 2008, and people aged between 20 and 29 are the group at highest risk.
Professor Michael Kidd, who chaired a ministerial advisory group on sexual disease strategies, says the higher infection rates mean young people are ignoring the government’s safe–sex ad campaign.
The surge in risky lifestyle, he said, could also result in an increase in HIV (human immunodeficiency virus, which causes AIDS).
"That’s one of the grave concerns," the Sydney Morning Herald quoted Professor Kidd as telling reporters on May 27 in Sydney.
"The concern is that if we see a condition like chlamydia on the rise, that indicates that there’s a lot of unsafe sexual practices occurring and of course that sets up an environment where HIV transmission can increase as well," he stated.
Professor Kidd expressed his views at the launch of the updated national strategies for combating Sexually–Transmissible Infections (STIs) and HIV.
He said previous safe–sex messages had not altered the behaviour of high–risk groups but he hoped the new messages, deployed across social media networks used by young people, would prove more effective.
It was 23 years ago that the "Grim Reaper" ad campaign shocked Australians into understanding that anyone could become infected with HIV/AIDS.
"I don’t think we need another "Grim Reaper" ad but I think that we do need appropriate, targeted education which targets individual priority populations," professor Kidd said.
Federal parliamentary Secretary for Health Mark Butler officially launched both strategies, saying the government was focused on reducing Australia’s HIV infection rate.
About 1,000 new HIV cases are detected every year in Australia – a figure that has doubled over the past 10 years but has levelled off in recent times.
"We’re certainly happier with the plateauing than an ongoing increase but we want to drive those rates down back to the sort of 600s or so per year that we were seeing in the beginning of the decade and we see no reason that we can’t do that," Butler said.
During his speech at the launch he stressed the need for Australia to alter its health strategies.
"We know that as a nation we seriously under–do prevention," he said.
"Of the slightly more than $100 billion that we spend on as a nation on health every year... around 2% is spent on stopping people getting sick in the first place," he stated.
Men who have sex with other men remain the highest risk group for contracting HIV, which Butler said is now a "chronic disease".
The launch follows accusations that 32–year–old circus acrobat Godfrey Zaburoni may have knowingly spread HIV by having unprotected sex with hundreds of potential partners.
The case has sparked a national health alert, with authorities urging anyone who had unprotected sex with the Zimbabwe–born man to contact them and undergo an HIV test.
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