Test, test, test.
The spell that was first used by public health experts to help step on the spread of COVID-19 is now applied to sexually transmitted infections.
Supporters and researchers believe that the unique set of social conditions that results from locking provides an opportunity to break the chain of transmission – something that cannot be missed.
“If we have broken the chain of transmission of COVID through physical distance then that means we might have broken the chain of transmission of HIV and STIs,” Jason Myers, chief executive of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation told AAP.
New Zealanders stay at home, except for important tasks and important workers, during the 51 day lockdown which ended earlier this month.
Efforts to eradicate the country have eliminated the disease in New Zealand. There are only eight active cases throughout the country, without Kiwis requiring hospital-level care.
That prompted Jacinda Ardern’s government to ease the collection of restrictions again starting Friday.
Meetings of up to 100 people are now allowed, even though physical distance between strangers is still part of the regime.
“What needs to happen now is before people re-enter the world of sex with casual partners, they need a test,” said Mr Myers.
“We know that there are a number of New Zealanders living with undiagnosed HIV infections.
If we can find these people through tests, diagnose them with HIV and connect them with care and care for them, we will break the chain.
“So we need to test.”
New Zealand has an STI profile similar to Australia, with syphilis rates that are similar to epidemics in society.
This week, the government-supported AIDS Epidemiology Group at Otago University released data showing the growth rates of Kiwis living with HIV.
In 2018, 185 new cases were identified. In 2019, that number will increase to 212.
Group leader Sue McAllister said she was “encouraged” by the decline in the number of cases that were first diagnosed in New Zealand.
The small increase in cases first diagnosed overseas may be due to kiwis returning home, international students or migrant workers, but Dr. McAllister said that it is important to note that New Zealanders who receive treatment for HIV do not pose a risk to the population.
Two-thirds of local transmission occurs between men who have sex with men and 17 percent occurs through heterosexual sex.
McAllister said improved methods of preventing condom use, early testing and treatment, and access to pre-exposure prophylaxis helped local decline.
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