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Sex survey “needs to prove credibility”
A new survey commissioned by the Queensland Health Department into the sexual health of men who have sex with men (MSM) appears to be raising more questions than it intends on asking. The ‘Sexual Health Study’ is being conducted by a private research firm, Enhance Research, and was commissioned by the department by request of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) on HIV/AIDS.
“The research was ordered by the MAC to fill in the background to recent trends in HIV rates. The goal is to understand why rates of unprotected sex have risen,” a spokesperson for the Health Minister Lawrence Springborg told the Star Observer.
“This trend has been borne out by data from the Kirby Institute.”
A statement released by Enhance Research said that their survey was looking at the reasons for a five per cent increase in the rates of men engaging in unsafe sex, and the MAC will review the results.
However, the need for this taxpayer-funded research and how it is being conducted has been questioned by members of the LGBTI community, including Healthy Communities executive director Paul Martin. Martin said that there were already numerous surveys out in the community, including the annual Gay Community Periodic Survey, that were independently and competently gathering data, using methods that are internationally renowned and respected.
“[They] are all long established, university-based research institutions with a significant international reputation for quality HIV research,” Martin told the Star Observer.
Martin questioned the need for another survey, especially one that didn’t engage with expert organisations that have been long established and were a part of the community.
“There are still questions that we have that research can answer, but new research needs to be developed in partnership with service providers and affected communities.”
Martin questioned the transparency, independent nature and expertise of the survey and said he would like Enhance Research or the Health Department to release further information regarding its methodologies, ethics and theoretical basis.
“Will the full, uncensored research report be available to participants and the wider community? Will the published findings of the research be subject to independent peer review?” he said.
There was confusion last week over whether or not the chairman of the MAC, Dr Darren Russell, knew about the research. Russell was asked on QueerRadio if he was aware of the study and he initially stated that he didn’t know about it.
Russell claims that he misunderstood the question, saying that he interpreted it to be asking about research being conducted by a LGBTI publication in Queensland.
“[The MAC] is well aware of the communications strategy that is being planned. We have had briefings from the government media people on two occasions, including our last MAC meeting,” Russell told the Star Observer.