The Hong Kong Advisory Council on AIDS recently published its Recommended HIV/AIDS Strategies for Hong Kong for 2017-2021 on 22 May. Dr Susan Fan, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Advisory Council on AIDS calls on the government, community organisations, healthcare workers and all members of society to step up to the challenge of preventing a HIV epidemic.

Strategy to reduce HIV, improve healthcare access for victims

The new strategy zooms into five priority areas, namely:

• Improving prevention strategies in priority communities (men who have sex with men, injecting drug users as well as sex workers and their clients)

• Providing holistic and quality HIV care, treatment and support

• Encouraging safe sex, harm reduction and eliminating discrimination

• Driving strategically informed and accountable interventions

• Collaborating with all members of society to ensure a wider outreach within Hong Kong and nearby regions

More specific recommendations include a highlight on early detection and prevention with regular HIV antibody testing of those at risk and regular condom use regardless of individual risk perception. Furthermore, prompt HIV treatment is recommended.

The council also aims to increase HIV/AIDS and sex education that emphasises the negative effects of risky sexual behavior, as well as strengthening advocation against HIV discrimination. Another focus is the prevention of mother-to-child transmission by increasing antenatal HIV testing of women.

36.7 million people worldwide living with HIV/AIDS

The explosion of HIV/AIDS took the world by storm. A vast majority of victims are from lower income countries, especially in Sub-Saharan Africa. With such a large population affected by such a debilitating and inevitably fatal condition – it became clear that prevention strategies needed to be implemented.
The initial response to the Sub-Saharan epidemic was the ABC approach – “Abstinence, Be faithful, Use a Condom”. However, this was replaced by ‘Combination Prevention’ by the mid 2000s.

anti aids
The combination prevention approach takes into account region-specific factors such as infrastructure and local culture and traditions. A paradigm shift in the HIV/AIDS response occurred towards a ‘know your epidemic, know your response’ approach.

Inching away from the conventional ‘one size fits all’ mentality – this approach rests on first gaining a clear, evidence-based perspective of the situation in any region, before deciding on the best prevention strategy. This strategy, when targeted at high-risk populations, has the potential to reduce HIV/AIDS prevalence drastically from pandemic to low-endemic levels.

Number of new HIV cases in Hong Kong in 2017 reaches record high

The new strategy could not have come at a better time. The first quarter of 2017 has already seen 204 confirmed cases of HIV – the highest on record since 1984. Worryingly, a much larger proportion of patients are between ages 20 – 29 compared to the predominant age group of 30 – 39 in the past.

However, Hong Kong has come a long way since the diagnosis of the first case of HIV/AIDS locally in 1984. “I am moved by the selfless commitment of all those who have been involved in the long combat against HIV/AIDS,” writes Dr Susan Fan, Chairperson of the Hong Kong Advisory Council on AIDS. Tag-lined “On firmer ground, strengthening the Hong Kong response” – the council is determined to put a stop to the HIV epidemic before it spins out of control. MIMS

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