The sixth National HIV Strategy needs to set a radically low infection target almost half the current rate, experts said as a preliminary draft ended community consultation.
A Government sign-off is expected within a few months with AFAO executive director Don Baxter concerned a double dissolution election could derail the strategy by more than a year.
The previous strategy was due to expire more than 12 months ago. The Rudd Government has attempted to correct the lapse by imposing a short turnaround drafting process.
The draft copy of the new strategy seen by Sydney Star Observer expands on goals barely mentioned under the previous Government, such as ensuring legal responses to HIV transmission don’t hinder health promotion and reducing HIV stigma.
The new goals also take a holistic approach to improving the lives and health of people with HIV.
Unchanged is the commitment to reducing new HIV infections, although nobody in writing committee spoke positively of the previous strategy’s role.
Former Government health advisor and Lowy Institute director of HIV projects Bill Bowtell said the last strategy only managed to increase the number of HIV infections.
“For a variety of reasons, we all took our eye off the ball. HIV rates have risen to unacceptable levels,” Bowtell said.
“The last strategy got too caught up in process. Obsessed with process and hope for the best. It ought to be focused on outcomes; reduction of HIV.”
The Government should set proper targets so it can see a return on the investment it spends on HIV, he said.
Bowtell thought 500-700 new infections per year was a “reasonable” target. Last year’s figures came out last week at 995, levelling off a decade-long steady rise.
Unless Australia did more to prevent new infections among vulnerable groups, particularly young people, the cumulative impact would make it an almost impossible challenge to control for future governments, he said.
“Twenty, 30, 40,000 young people have not been infected with HIV because of the sustained approach. If we’d gone the American strategy that wouldn’t have happened.
“Australia needs to set good targets that we are capable of meeting, and breaking, over time.”