We determined the contribution of undiagnosed HIV to new infections among gay and bisexual men (GBM) over a 12-year period in Australia where there has been increasing focus on improving testing and HIV treatment coverage.
We generated annual estimates for each step of the HIV cascade and the number of new HIV infections for GBM in Australia over 2004 to 2015 using relevant national data. Using Bayesian melding we then fitted a quantitative model to the cascade and incidence estimates to infer relative transmission coefficients associated with being undiagnosed, diagnosed and not on ART, on ART with unsuppressed virus, or on ART with suppressed virus.
Between 2004 and 2015, we estimated the percentage of GBM with HIV in Australia who were unaware of their status to have decreased from 14.5% to 7.5%. During the same period, there was a substantial increase in the number and proportion of GBM living with HIV on treatment and with suppressed virus, with the number of virally suppressed GBM increasing from around 3900 (30.2% of all GBM living with HIV) in 2004 to around 14,000 (73.7% of all GBM living with HIV) in 2015. Despite the increase in viral suppression, the annual number of new infections rose from around 660 to around 760 over this period. Our results have a wide range due to the uncertainty in the cascade estimates and transmission coefficients. Nevertheless, undiagnosed GBM increasingly appear to contribute to new infections. The proportion of new infections attributable to undiagnosed GBM almost doubled from 33% in 2004 to 59% in 2015. Only a small proportion (<7%) originated from GBM with suppressed virus.
Our study suggests that an increase in HIV treatment coverage in Australia has reduced the overall risk of HIV transmission from people living with HIV. However, the proportion of infections and the rate of transmission from undiagnosed GBM has increased substantially. These findings highlight the importance of HIV testing and intensified prevention for Australian GBM at high risk of HIV.