The Queensland Health Department revealed Monday that it will fund new ‘community HIV education and prevention officers’ to be facilitated by Queensland Positive People (QPP). Chair of the Ministerial Advisory Committee (MAC), Dr Darren Russell, announced the creation of four new positions as an effort to further engage and support people living with HIV/AIDS (PLHIV).
“This relationship allows for the personal experiences of PLHIV to help shape the future response to HIV prevention in Queensland.” Russell said.
“The engagement and empowerment of PLHIV to be involved in all aspects of health promotion, prevention and education of HIV within the wider community strengthens the community response.”
Based in Brisbane, the Gold Coast and Cairns, the primary role of the officers will be to promote awareness and education regarding HIV transmission and prevention amongst any men who have sex with other men.
Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC) executive director Paul Martin welcomed the creation of the new positions and much needed support for QPP, but questioned the decision to direct resources to an organisation that doesn’t solely deal with gay men.
“QPP is not a gay or LGBT organisation and the new positions are not a substitute for targeted peer education, delivered by a peer organisation,” Martin said in a statement.
Martin accused the Queensland government of acting in breach of Australia’s sixth National HIV Strategy that encourages working in partnership with and funding LGBTI community organisations to deliver peer-based HIV prevention services.
“Four HIV prevention workers covering a range of population groups does not go close to replacing the mutli-layered, sophisticated statewide response that Healthy Communities had in place for 28 years.”
Another development announced Monday was the introduction of ‘rapid’ HIV blood tests at sexual health clinics starting on June 3. This will see Queensland become the first state to implement the Therapeutic Drugs Administration-approved tests that require a drop of blood from a finger that is then placed on a small test strip.
“Reducing the average time of diagnosis from more than four years after transmission will be a significant public health benefit as early diagnosis helps prevent further transmission during the highly infectious stage of primary infection,” Russell said.
The rapid tests should be available state-wide by World AIDS Day on December 1 and will be conducted by sexual health clinics from June, despite flagged staff and service cutbacks to these clinics.
This news was also been welcomed by QAHC, but Martin remains concerned about sexual health clinic Biala’s closure.
“While the introduction of rapid HIV tests is welcomed, it seems at odds with the reduction of services and staffing positions occurring in many sexual health clinics across Queensland, most notably at Biala,” he said.
This week, a community forum about the cuts to services was due to be held on Tuesday at the Wickham Hotel, with speakers including Labor MP for South Brisbane Jackie Trad.
Federal health minister Tanya Plibersek was set to attend but cancelled due to urgent government commitments.