Mining Boom, Overseas Travel Linked To Increase in New HIV Cases in Australia, Researchers Say
A mining boom in the Australian states of Western Australia and Queensland is contributing to an increase in the number of new HIV cases in the region, particularly among heterosexual men, Reuters reports. According to Reuters, a "large number" of new cases are among heterosexual men in the region who vacation in Asia (Perry, Reuters, 9/17).
There were 1,051 new cases in 2007 -- a 5% increase from 998 new cases recorded in 2006 and a 50% increase from 718 new cases recorded in 1999 -- according to a report released Wednesday by the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research (Medew, AAP/Age, 9/17). Don Baxter, executive director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, said there has been a 68% increase in HIV cases contracted overseas by heterosexual West Australian men between 2002 and 2004, and 2005 and 2007 (Cresswell, Australian, 9/17).
Baxter said that the group has found the "emergence over the past three years of pockets of heterosexual men who are becoming infected" in the "resource-rich states, adding that a "common factor seems to have been them taking holidays in Papua New Guinea ... and Thailand and Cambodia or some other Southeast Asian" country (AFP/Yahoo! Health, 9/17).
Western Australian AIDS Council Executive Director Trish Langdon said 91 people in the state were found to have contracted HIV overseas from 2005 to 2007, compared with 41 such infections from 2002 to 2004. Heterosexual men accounted for two-thirds of the increase, the Australian reports (Australian, 9/17).
Darren Russell, director of the Cairns Sexual Health Service, said, "We're seeing something new with these older, heterosexual, Australian-based men with high disposable incomes putting themselves at incredible risk with unprotected sex, often after entertaining and drinking." Russell added, "This cluster could just be the beginning of a very large outbreak. It indicates the HIV epidemic in Papua New Guinea is becoming more generalized, which puts these men at greater risk, and in that climate the numbers will only rise."
Baxter said the "relentless increases show our current investments in HIV programs are just not sufficient to reverse the rate of HIV infections in Australia; we're still heading in the wrong direction" (Medew, AAP/Age, 9/17). He added that the Western Australian state government and AIDS council was working with mining companies to implement safer-sex education programs for miners. Baxter's organization, AFAO, called on the national government to increase funding for HIV/AIDS prevention programs to curb the increase in new cases (Reuters, 9/17).