ACON has named improved community mental health and less drug-related harm as goals for the next three years as it continues to move beyond HIV-specific work.

In the same period, the organisation also wants to halve syphilis rates among gay men and reduce new HIV notifications by 25 per cent -“ targets it insists are realistic despite recent infection rises.

ACON has outlined the plans in a draft 2006-2009 strategic plan due to take effect in July.

ACON president Adrian Lovney said the organisation would continue its HIV/AIDS work but wanted to explore new areas of health promotion.

Some people’s view about ACON is that it’s the same organisation that we were five years ago when the reality is our services are much different and across a broader range of areas, Lovney told Sydney Star Observer.

Community mental health is a key concern, with research suggesting gay men and lesbians are more prone to depression than heterosexuals.

The draft plan says ACON will target stigma associated with mental illness and address social isolation. It will also look at regional services as a member of the recently formed Rural Mental Health Network.

A recent review of ACON’s rural services showed there was definitely room for improvement, Lovney said.

ACON also wants to reduce harm linked to alcohol and drugs like crystal meth and GHB. A drug-related code of conduct for party organisers is one option.

We want to explore a code of conduct for party promoters in the same way that we do sex-on-premises venues, that talks about the role of medical [intervention], the role of things like [drug] rovers that make parties safe spaces, Lovney said.

By 2009, ACON want to see new HIV infection notifications drop by one quarter and syphilis rates fall by half.

Lovney denied the targets were overly optimistic given recent HIV increases in Victoria and Queensland and the STI infection rises seen in Sydney’s gay community of late.

ACON could help lower STI rates through a series of targeted interventions, investment by government, and the continuation of the partnership approach, Lovney said.

They have underpinned the successes in NSW. If you look at Queensland and Victoria, they’re not present.

Lovney said the most recent figures suggested inner Sydney syphilis rates were dropping. NSW Health expects to report a flattening of HIV notifications when it releases its 2005 figures.

ACON is also planning HIV/AIDS projects in countries like East Timor and Thailand after recently working with gay men in Bangkok.

Controlling HIV in the region is a critical issue for us and it impacts on infections in Australia, Lovney said.

We think that we can do a little bit of work in the region to work with similar organisations to tackle similar issues.

To read and comment on ACON’s draft strategic plan visit the ACON website.

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