The Prime Minister’s World AIDS Day speech has won qualified praise from Australian national AIDS organizations.
In her address at the Sydney Opera House, Gillard noted the eradication of small pox two years prior to the discovery of AIDS, and hoped the same could one day be said about HIV.
“Let us keep the light of hope burning in our hearts, until we can stand together, like Frank Fenner did with smallpox 30 years ago, and say the journey is over and the job is done,” said Gillard, while pledging “more funding” and stressing the need for universal access to treatment.
NAPWA executive director Jo Watson welcomed the statements on funding and access to treatment, but was concerned Gillard had not acknowledged the group most effected by HIV in Australia during her speech.
“There’s a worry about the political sensitivity attached to identifying this HIV population in this country when the bulk of transmissions are still figured very much among men who have sex with men,” Watson told the Star Observer.
“People in bureaucracies and at a political level seem to be shying away from that and that’s a real concern for all of us.”
Watson said if Gillard was serious about access to treatment she could extend coverage to Australian residents who were Medicare ineligible without citizenship.
“NAPWA has for several years been requesting access to drugs for people who are not covered by Medicare,” Watson said.
“Today in this country these people are not able to access a doctor, a service or get their HIV drugs while they are living with HIV … unless they want to purchase them at full price.”
Watson said poverty among Australians living with HIV remained an issue too.
“Many people in Australia are struggling to pay for their drugs even with Medicare coverage and co-payment subsidies. There is a real risk of these people delaying access to a doctor or service or filling their scripts because of those affordability issues,” she said.
AFAO executive director Don Baxter said he would have liked the Prime Minister to acknowledge groups effected by HIV in Australia, but said it was significant that Gillard had been the first Australian Prime Minister to participate in a major AIDS event since Paul Keating.
Baxter praised the treatment and prevention work the Australian Government was already funding abroad as part of Ausaid, and Australia’s permanent representative to the UN taking on the responsibility of co-chairing a five year review of the global HIV program, but welcomed more funding.
“We’ve come to the end of tether at the Commonwealth level in relation to HIV funding because we’ve had Hepatitis C and STIs rolled in with it and this year we’ve had Hepatitis B rolled in as well, but the actual envelope of money for that work hasn’t increased,” Baxter said.