VICTORIAN Health Minister David Davis has said if the Liberals were re-elected at next weekend’s state election they would spend $4 million over the next four years to expand the PRONTO! HIV rapid testing service.

The announcement was made last week at a community election forum organised by Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and Living Positive Victoria (LPV) that addressed Victoria’s ongoing response to HIV and AIDS.

Davis was joined by Shadow Health Minister Gavin Jennings, Greens health spokesperson Colleen Hartland, and Australian Sex Party candidate Joel Murray — who is also the only HIV-positive candidate running in the state election.

Jennings, Hartland and Murray all gave a definitive commitments to repeal Section 19A of the state’s Crimes Act, which is Australia’s only HIV-specific law and widely considered to discriminate against people living with HIV, and to contribute to HIV stigma.

During July’s International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, the Liberals announced they would amend Section 19A, but Labor soon after announced their plans to repeal it within 12 months if they were elected to Spring St.

At last week’s forum, Davis confirmed that the government’s plans to amend Section 19A would not include an expansion to other blood-borne viruses.

Using the VAC and LPV’s joint election document HIV/AIDS: What Your Government Can Do as a framework, each speaker was given an opportunity to highlight their respective party’s response to the key issues and recommended actions before opening the forum to a question and answer session with the public.

Questions raised included concerns over possible co-payments when accessing HIV treatment, rural/regional access, and more.

“We’re very pleased to have been able to host all the speakers for the forum and connect them with our community,” VAC chief executive Simon Ruth said.

“However, we were only able to cover so much on the night. We’ve yet to hear firm commitments regarding access to post exposure prophylaxis (PEP), especially in regional and rural Victoria.

“Furthermore, we’ve yet to hear if any of the parties would support a firm state-level position on pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as we’ve seen in the NSW HIV Strategy.

LPV executive officer Brent Allan added: “In order to end HIV we need to dismantle the ongoing damaging effects of stigma. We need the incoming government to commit to funding stigma awareness and resilience building work as a key priority.”

Rural Victorian and HIV-positive community advocate Catherine Smith drove into Melbourne to attend the community forum.

“Whichever major party forms government in the upcoming Victorian State Election, they must make a commitment to do all in their power to remove any and all barriers to accessing HIV services and treatment for rural and regional Victorians,” she said.

“In doing so, they will honour the call from Ban Ki-moon, the United Nations Secretary-General, to ensure that no one is left behind in our global fight to end AIDS by 2030.”

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