The Ministry of Health has announced an ambitious plan to eradicate HIV transmission within a decade.
The draft 2022 HIV Action Plan, released for consultation on Saturday, lays out a roadmap to reduce new HIV infections, reduce mortality, combat stigma and improve outcomes for Māori and other vulnerable populations.
Associate Minister of Health, Dr Ayesha Verrall, says the plan will include an $18 million boost for HIV treatment and prevention over four years.
“Elimination will take a concerted effort, but we know from the Covid-19 experience we can achieve ambitious elimination goals with nationally consistent and decisive strategies.
“New Zealand had the world’s first national publicly-funded needle and syringe programme to assist with the prevention of HIV, and we now also have one of the lowest rates in the world of HIV among people who inject drugs," Verrall said.
The rate of HIV transmission in New Zealand has steadily declined since the 1980s.
Recent advances in treatment have also left advocates and clinicians optimistic.
New antiretroviral drugs known as PrEP have been shown to reduce the rate of transmission by 99%.
Three-month prescriptions for the drugs have risen dramatically in New Zealand in recent years, from 199, in March 2018, to 2839 in June 2022.
And last month Pharmac expanded the eligibility for medicine, rather than a set criterion of patient sexual history, doctors can now prescribe the drug based on their judgement.
It's estimated that 3500 people live with HIV in New Zealand, which leaves roughly 700 undiagnosed.
The new plan aims to improve the uptake of HIV treatments by expanding access to care and testing, including home testing kits.
It also aims to address stigma and discrimination, which is often a barrier to treatment according to Auckland University sexual health expert Dr Peter Saxton.
"But need to know where those pockets are that we're not reaching yet and we're never going to reach zero if, in fact, people can't access services," he told 1News.
"Those relationships between those communities most at risk and our health services might have been fractured recently, so one of the challenges in the new action plan is to rebuild those."
According to Joe Rich, CEO of Burnett Foundation Aotearoa, formerly known as the New Zealand Aids Foundation, the government initiative has long been coming. The last government HIV/AIDS Action Plan was set in 2003.
"It's something we've advocated for a long time.
"We've been working really hard with the health sector... to drive down new transmissions and reduce stigma.
"We've achieved a lot but we haven't got towards elimination, so the need for a well-resourced coordinated government response is super important.
"It's an ambitious plan but it's within reach... we have the tools, we just need to make them more accessible.
"And it will take more than just the four years of investment that's been put aside."
Since 1985, there have been 5430 notifications of HIV in New Zealand and 757 AIDS-related deaths.
It’s estimated that around 3500 people are living with HIV in New Zealand.