The federal Health minister, Senator Kay Patterson, is coming under increasing criticism for not releasing a report into the national HIV/AIDS strategy.

It is believed the report blames the recent rises in new HIV infections on a lack of commitment to a new national prevention strategy, and a lack of leadership from Canberra.

The report was prepared for the minister by a group of independent experts, and was presented to her last November. Since then she has declined repeated requests to release the report, but earlier drafts of the report have been seen by journalists, HIV/AIDS groups and Opposition politicians.

We don’t understand why it has taken so long to release the report, Victorian AIDS Council executive officer Mike Kennedy said. The Fourth National AIDS Strategy expires next June and there is an urgent need to prepare a fifth strategy. We believe this is what the report recommends.

The successful partnership between government and the community needs to be renewed, and the government sitting on this report does nothing to help that.

Last week Queensland ALP senator Claire Moore asked Patterson whether there was a national increase in HIV infections, and whether the minister had been warned 10 months ago that this was happening. Isn’t it the case that the minister continues to drift along, business as usual, while more and more Australians are infected? Moore asked.

Patterson replied that she was aware of the reported increases. I have had discussions with some of the state ministers about the change in strategy needed with the change in behaviour, she said.

Patterson did not give a direct answer on the delay in releasing the report. I have not been sitting on my hands, she said. We have a fully funded five-year strategy in place until the middle of next year -¦ I asked the department to review the AIDS strategy early so that, rather than doing it in a rushed way, we can inform the new strategy, which will require a five-year plan to address the very significant changes in behaviour.

The delay in releasing the report has drawn criticism even from the government’s supporters. An editorial in The Australian on 5 August said it was hard to understand why Patterson had not released the report. The editorial suggested that the possible cost of a new HIV prevention strategy might be a reason.

B.News believes, however, that the real author of the delay is not Senator Patterson, but the Prime Minister’s Department, which controls health policy at a political level. The real reason for the delay in releasing the report may be that it conflicts with Prime Minister John Howard’s tough on drugs strategy.

The report is believed to warn of a perception that education and prevention programs for injecting drug users were in decline, paving the way for a potentially catastrophic change in the HIV-AIDS epidemic.

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