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Complacency blamed for HIV surge -

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TONY EASTLEY: There's been a sharp increase in the number of Australians contracting the virus which leads to AIDS.

The number of HIV infections rose by 10 per cent last year, the fastest increase in about 20 years.

Simon Lauder reports.

SIMON LAUDER: Every year the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales releases a report on sexually transmissible infections in Australia.

DAVID WILSON: This year is not a good report for STI's in Australia. They're largely all an increase.

SIMON LAUDER: The Institute's Professor David Wilson says Chlamydia remains the most frequently reported notifiable infection, with 82,000 new cases last year.

The latest report highlights another worrying problem - a surge in HIV infections.

DAVID WILSON: It's very alarming what's happening with HIV at the moment. We've had over 1,250 cases of HIV recorded, that's those that have been diagnosed. And there are about 25 per cent of cases that are undiagnosed in Australia as well.

SIMON LAUDER: I understand that's the biggest increase in about two decades?

DAVID WILSON: Yeah, that is right. The epidemic's just been increasing. It's been increasing substantially for over 10 years. And the increase is not only just continuing on the same trend but it's increasing even further. We haven't had this large increase in, actually since the early 1980s.

SIMON LAUDER: Why such a big increase? What's going wrong?

DAVID WILSON: Well, partly it's because we're testing a few more people, potentially. But really that cannot account for the extent of the increase that we're seeing. Unfortunately it does appear that, particularly in the gay community, condoms are not being used as much. And we're seeing that particularly among the young men, those in their twenties, those that weren't exposed to a lot of the public health campaigns of the eighties and nineties.

SIMON LAUDER: Have warnings about HIV and AIDS dropped off, or have people just stopped listening?

DAVID WILSON: Neither of those in particular. We've got a very good education from some of our community groups that are really targeting the groups that need to hear it. But it is a different era now than what it was in the past.

Maybe there's some degree of complacency that's set in. HIV is no longer the death sentence is once was. With good, effective treatments, it can keep people alive to almost a full life expectancy. So I think it's perhaps a little bit of complacency that's set in.

SIMON LAUDER: Professor Wilson says there's also a disturbing trend in HIV infection among Indigenous Australians, with a higher proportion of new infections from injecting drugs.

DAVID WILSON: There's no reason why we might not expect to see HIV start to rise and be really a horrible epidemic in that Aboriginal population unless we do some active prevention and start to mitigate these rates now.

SIMON LAUDER: Bill Whittaker from the National Association of People with HIV says state governments are doing good work to address HIV, but the national response lags behind.

BILL WHITTAKER: It's a bit patchy, particularly the Commonwealth Government has been slow to respond to recent scientific advances in HIV and to get on board with the states and territories in trying to reverse these trends.

SIMON LAUDER: The findings of the report will be presented at a conference in Darwin today.

TONY EASTLEY: Simon Lauder reporting.