A new HIV prevention campaign by NSW Health has been created in consultation with major HIV health organisations, part of a growing number of inter-agency strategies aimed at combating the recent rise in HIV infections.

Launched this week, the HIV Prevention Action Plan was developed by NSW Health in consultation with ACON, PLWHA (NSW), Australian Society for HIV Medicine and metropolitan health services.

At this point in time we thought it was important to bring together all of the agencies that are funded to do HIV prevention work with gay men, NSW Health’s Lisa Ryan told Sydney Star Observer.

We think that the increase in 2002 was a disturbing increase. For there to be a further increase in 2003, we think there’s something really significant going on and we would ask gay men who aren’t consistently practising safe sex to think really carefully about the risks that they may be taking, Ryan said.

The Action Plan is a media campaign aimed with three messages: the risk of contracting HIV from unprotected sex is now higher than it was 12 months ago; sexually transmitted infections such as syphilis are increasing and having an STI could make it easier to transmit or acquire HIV; and the most effective way to protect yourself and your partners is to consistently use condoms.

The release of the Action Plan follows the launch last month of Having A Life, an HIV peer education resource created by AFAO and NAPWA. Last week also saw the launch of PLWHA (NSW)’s first major campaign The Words To Say It, a project created in association with NSW Health and ACON.

ACON president Adrian Lovney told the Star that although all of these organisations had worked together previously, something had changed.

The increase in figures has meant we all want to invest energy in getting this under control, and if that means working more closely together than we may have done previously, if that can deliver a better outcome, then that’s what we’re looking for, Lovney said.

The campaigns have been launched just as the federal government released its response to the 2002 Reviews of the [fourth] National HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C Strategies and Strategic Research.

Health minister Tony Abbott announced that a fifth National HIV/AIDS Strategy would be developed, as recommended in the 2002 Reviews. A new panel -“ the Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis -“ will be formed to help create the fifth national strategy.

The government rejected recommendations to further explore the benefits of a medically supervised heroin trial and medically supervised injecting facilities. Acting AFAO president Bill Whittaker told the Star this was disappointing, but he was pleased most of the recommendations were supported by the government.

As far as the HIV prevention programs are concerned, the central feature to stop the spread of HIV amongst injecting drug users is the Needle and Syringe Program and the minister has made a statement of support for the continuation of the program, Whittaker said. It’s the cornerstone of our response to the epidemic and it’s the primary reason we’ve not gone to the road of the USA and other countries where they failed to put in place those programs and have paid an appallingly high cost.

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