Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC) executive director Paul Martin has sought to refute what he claims are “inaccuracies and misreporting” by Queensland Health Minister Laurence Springborg (pictured) and his department following an interview with the minister in the Star Observer last month.

Springborg highlighted an out of control, consistent rise in HIV infection rates over the past 10 years as one reason he chose to defund QAHC, something which Martin has long said was based on inaccurate data.

“Queensland rates are not ‘spiralling out of control’, but are broadly in line with the national and international experience,” Martin told the Star Observer.

“How we see HIV today is not the same as it was in the crisis of 30 years ago. While condoms remain the most important HIV prevention tool, increasing numbers of men are using risk reduction strategies, but sometimes get these wrong.

“Stigma and discrimination against people living with HIV is still common, including within the LGBT community. We are seeing HIV increase at faster rates in new and emerging populations other than gay men.“ Whilst rates actually dropped in Queensland last year by almost as much as the national rate increased (eight percent), Martin said he believes that HIV needs to be studied and understood differently to 30 years ago, when the disease was a death sentence.

Martin says that improving education in schools, easier access to HIV testing and medications, as well as a community-based approach to dealing with HIV has been proven to be the best means to deal with the disease.

“We know that community-based peer education among gay men and other at-risk groups is the most effective strategy to reduce HIV transmission. Australia took this approach early in the epidemic and that is why our rates remain low compared to similar countries.”

Another reason given by Springborg for defunding QAHC was that the organisation had become too political, an accusation that Martin denies.

“Healthy Communities was not focussed on political issues, we were and are focused on our core activity of improving the health and wellbeing of the LGBT communities of Queensland, which includes HIV and sexual health,” he said.

“Calling for equal treatment for all Queenslanders is not ‘sectional’ or ‘radical’, it’s fair and just. Advocating for healthy public policy is a small but important part of the range of health promotion approaches utilised by Healthy Communities,” he said

Martin said he supports the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC) that was set up by the government to redirect the funds from QAHC but said the organisation was concerned that the minister has made no commitment that the money would continue to be used on gay men’s HIV prevention. We agree that the MAC can provide a strategic focus advising on HIV awareness and prevention for Queensland. But strategy and advice is not the same as delivery.”

“While we welcome the minister’s commitment that all of the money taken from Healthy Communities will continue to be used for HIV awareness and prevention, we are very concerned that he has made no commitment for that money to continue to be used on gay men’s HIV prevention,” he said.

Martin said he welcomed the interest that Springborg has had in reducing the rate of HIV but he believes the minister needs to broaden his knowledge about effective methods and means by which to deal with the disease.

“Mr Springborg has had an interest in HIV/AIDS issues and has reached out to parts of the LGBT community, especially around the 2009 election. His knowledge of national and international best practice in HIV could do with some updating,” he said.

“We thank the many thousands of people who have written, marched, donated, volunteered and otherwise supported the work of Healthy Communities in improving the health and wellbeing of LGBT Queenslanders.

“The needs of our communities and the strength, passion and commitment of our supporters will ensure we survive the decision of one health minister.”

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