Care services for people with HIV in Queensland have been handed over to the Anglican Church, resulting in angry protests outside state parliament.

Approximately 130 people attended a protest yesterday after the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) lost its tender application to provide care for PLWHAs to St Luke’s Nursing Service.

Acting general manager of QuAC Steven Brown told Sydney Star Observer the decision was made without consultation with QuAC or with positive clients, many of whom were resistant to church-based organisations.

That’s one of the strongest concerns coming from PLWHA, many of whom have experienced abuse at the hands of the church, church organisations, schools and welfare agencies, Brown said.

Brown said the decision was even more shocking because it was made without an existing state HIV/AIDS strategy, which lapsed in June 2002. A representative from Queensland Health had not responded to Sydney Star Observer at the time of going to print.

It seems to be a general retreat from notions of partnership in the national strategy [on HIV/AIDS]. For many years we’ve been looking at the partnership being eroded in any meaningful sense. This is the latest manifestation to us of a partnership which is now just given lip service, he said.

The fifth national strategy on HIV/AIDS has yet to be announced, following long delays in releasing a review of the previous strategy. The fourth national strategy expired last month.

The federal government also came under fire in March when health minister Tony Abbott failed to appoint any community representatives or HIV-positive people to the new Ministerial Advisory Committee On AIDS, Sexual Health And Hepatitis.

AIDS organisations have also expressed concerns about the proposed Free Trade Agreement with the US, which might include a review panel (including drug company representatives) to query the decisions of the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee (PBAC).

From a report in The Australian this week, it appears Abbott will attempt to allay such fears, with a review panel now featuring a single convenor. The process will be at arm’s length from the drug industry and would not be able to overturn a PBAC decision, The Australian reported.

Gabe McCarthy, president of the National Association of PLWHA, greeted the news with caution.

We would welcome any real attempt to make this process genuinely transparent and independent,
McCarthy told the Star.

But there’s a bigger picture to all this too, and other aspects of the proposed FTA concern us greatly. At the Bangkok World AIDS Conference, there was a major focus on the effects which FTAs can have on the availability of generic drugs, by tipping the balance further in favour of patent holders.

We remain concerned that the proposed US FTA is similarly framed more with the needs of industry in mind, she said.

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