Local NGO AIDS Concern has urged people at risk of contracting HIV to get tested, after the Department of Health’s Centre for Health Protection (CHP) revealed on Tuesday that the number of infections last year hit a record high.

There were 725 new HIV infections last year, the highest since records began in 1984. The CHP said that 434 of these cases acquired the infection through homosexual or bisexual contact, 135 through heterosexual contact, 14 through drug injection and two by perinatal transmission. The transmission method of the remaining cases could not be determined.

Wong speaking at the press conference. Photo: GovHK.

As of the fourth quarter of 2015, 7,718 HIV infections and 1,655 confirmed cases of AIDS have been reported since 1985.

CHP Consultant Dr Wong Ka-hing said at a press conference that sexual contact remained the major mode of HIV transmission and stressed the importance of using condoms properly to reduce the risk.

See More: HKFP’s Guide to Sexual Health in Hong Kong

“HIV is the cause of AIDS and, without treatment, about half of HIV-infected people will progress to AIDS within 10 years,” Wong said. “Members of the public with a history of unsafe sex should take an HIV antibody test early.”

Photo: NIAID, via Flickr.

Stigma remains

Meanwhile, local NGO AIDS Concern reported 68 new cases of HIV identified at the centre in 2015 – also the highest since tests began in 2000.

Assistant Programme Manager of AIDS Concern Kurt Wong said that the numbers were worrying and urged more people at risk to go for testing. “When people are diagnosed and receive treatment, the virus level can be reduced to a very low level so that it is unlikely they pass HIV to someone else.”

“However, AIDS Concern testing data shows that not enough people are getting tested early for the epidemic to be beaten,” he said. “31 percent of the 68 people who tested positive at AIDS Concern in 2015 had not been tested for more than a year and 25 percent were never tested.” Wong said that many are reluctant to go for tests because of misconceptions and prejudice in society.

AIDS Concern urges more people to go for testing. Photo provided by AIDS Concern.

Wong encouraged more people to “muster up the courage” and take HIV tests. “[I]f diagnosed and treated early, people living with HIV can have a life expectancy similar to that of non-infected people,” he said.

Aside from AIDS Concern, organisations that provide free testing include Hong Kong AIDS Foundation and the Department of Health’s AIDS Hotline, as well as CHOICE, The Boys’ & Girls Clubs Association of Hong Kong, and social hygiene clinics.

Karen is a journalist and writer covering politics and legal affairs in Hong Kong for HKFP. She has also written features on human rights, public space, regional legal developments, social and grassroots activism, and arts & culture. She is a BA and LLB graduate from the University of Hong Kong.