HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) damages the immune system. It’s spread through unprotected sex and contact with infected blood. Mothers can pass HIV on to their babies during pregnancy, childbirth and while breastfeeding.


There isn’t a vaccine or cure for HIV, but antiretroviral drugs can help protect your immune system if you have the virus.

More people than ever are living with HIV, largely due to greater access to treatment.

Without drug treatment, you can develop cancers and serious illnesses such as pneumonia.

When a person has HIV and one or more of these infections or cancers, they are said to have AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).

You can protect yourself from HIV by practising safe sex and safe injecting behaviour.

At-risk groups

If you think there is any risk that you may have HIV, then you must have an HIV test.

In New Zealand, the early epidemic of HIV infection and AIDS was highly concentrated among men who had sex with men. They’re still the group most at risk of catching HIV in New Zealand.

From 1996–2011, there were 784 people infected heterosexually. Most were from parts of the world where heterosexual HIV transmission is common, and 79% were thought to have been infected overseas.

HIV facts

HIV in New Zealand

  • In New Zealand, very few people are infected with HIV.
  • Since 1985 (when records began) to December 2011, 3608 New Zealanders have tested positive for HIV. (This includes people who may have gone overseas since, or opted out of ongoing care.)
  • Specialists have reported 2000 people with HIV under their care, with about 80% of those being on antiretroviral drugs.

HIV worldwide

  • In 2010, 2.7 million people were diagnosed.
  • At the end of 2010, around 34 million people were living with HIV.

Related websites

New Zealand Aids Foundation
The Aids Foundation provides free HIV tests and information for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Body Positive
A support group for people living with HIV and AIDS.

Positive Women
A support organisation for women and families living with HIV and AIDS.

National Screening Unit
Runs the antenatal HIV screening programme

The United Nations programme on HIV/AIDS aimed preventing the disease and ensuring those diagnosed receive treatment, care and support.

Find out more from the Ministry

Information, research and publications about HIV and AIDS in New Zealand. Read more


Getting tested is the best way to find out if you have HIV.

  • Your doctor, Family Planning clinic, sexual health clinic or the New Zealand AIDS Foundation can arrange the blood test.
  • The result is confidential.

Most people get flu-like symptoms a few weeks after being infected with HIV, but these symptoms are often missed.

About 10–12 years after getting infected, people with HIV who aren’t on drug treatments often get illnesses such as pneumonia and cancer because their immune system is weakened.


People with HIV can live relatively normal lives with drug treatment. Treatment and care for people with HIV is of a high standard with a good range of antiretroviral agents funded.

Testing, treatment and care are provided in a number of health settings, including general practice, sexual health centres, community-based centres, special units based in major hospitals, and hospices.

If you have HIV, your doctor will normally prescribe a combination of antiretroviral drugs to stop the virus damaging your immune system.

In the year 2010–11, there were 1518 patients receiving funded antiretroviral therapy.

Once you start the treatment, you’ll probably need to keep taking the drugs for the rest of your life.

You may need to change drugs if the virus becomes resistant or if you get serious side effects.

If you’ve got HIV, you’ll also be eligible for free influenza vaccine each year.


You can protect yourself from HIV by practising safe sex and safe injecting behaviour.

Safe sex

It isn’t possible for HIV to pass through an intact latex condom.

Using condoms and water-based lubricant correctly every time you have vaginal or anal sex reduces the risk of getting HIV by around 95%.

Don’t share needles

If you inject yourself with drugs, it’s important to use new needles and syringes.

Blood is left on syringes and needles every time they’re used. If you share injecting equipment, you can catch HIV from another person’s blood if they are infected.

HIV antenatal screening

Women with HIV can pass it on to their babies during pregnancy, birth and while breastfeeding. If you’re pregnant, you’ll be offered a screening test for HIV at the same time as you have your other blood tests, as a routine part of your antenatal care. The screening programme is run by the National Screening Unit.

If you’re found to have HIV, you’ll be offered treatment that reduces the chance of your baby becoming infected from approximately 25% to less than 2%.

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