HIV organisations have welcomed the long-overdue release of Australia’s sixth National HIV Strategy.
It is more than a year late, but state and federal Governments have unanimously endorsed a set of five new national strategies for HIV, hepatitis B, sexually transmitted infections, hepatitis C and blood-borne viruses in Indigenous communities.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) president Graham Brown welcomed the new strategy which aims for a significant reduction in HIV transmission rates and increased standards of living for people with HIV over the next three years.
“We have been able to achieve a good re-investment back into HIV prevention, and have seen leadership return,” Brown said.
“What we have now is a national strategy that is able to engage with an increasingly diverse epidemic, without taking away from the fact that gay and bisexual men are still bearing the brunt of it.”
Rising HIV rates in Indigenous communities and the impacts of travel to countries with a high prevalence of HIV will receive increased attention, although gay and bisexual men are still recognised as the top priority.
Brown said the new strategy, which was developed with strong involvement from the community sector, provided a realistic approach to Australian epidemics, and provided “a strong policy framework, to advocate for what is required”.
“The need for effective and sustained interventions are stipulated more clearly now,” he told Sydney Star Observer.
“We won’t have to argue for particular types of programs, and won’t have to start from scratch each time we have those conversations.”
ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill was also pleased to see “renewed national leadership and a commitment to partnership from the Australian Government in this important area of health”.
“These strategies mark another important period of effort for us all to reduce the transmission of HIV, STIs and blood-borne viruses in ACON’s communities,” he said.
“ACON looks forward to working closely with the Australian and NSW Governments, AFAO and our state and territory counterparts to develop the implementation plans that will sit under each strategy.”
Brown said he was excited about the strategy, “but there are areas that could have taken a bolder approach”. He remained concerned over state Government reluctance to increase clean injecting programs or make changes to sex work regulations.
“They’re areas of such political sensitivity that are not treated as strongly as they need to be,” he said.
“One of the biggest dangers we’ve got with the Australian epidemic is our relative success. At a policy, a funding and at a community support level, people start to feel like we’ve dealt with HIV, so we can take the attention and resources elsewhere. Wherever that’s happened, there have been significant increases in HIV diagnosis.”