QUEENSLANDERS determined to end the threat of HIV and AIDS know that when I was appointed Health Minister by Premier Campbell Newman, I inherited a HIV strategy of the former Labor Government that was stale and moribund.
In a state suffering the effects of decades of policy decay, nowhere is the need to repair and reform the management of government policy more obvious than in healthcare – and a case in point is HIV and AIDS.
In Queensland, rates of HIV infection had doubled over the last 10 years.
Labor directed AIDS funding through an agency that lost sight of the problem. It championed political issues and boasted of resources diverted to those ends, while the anti-AIDS campaign just fell apart.
Today, it is 18 months since I de-funded that agency and installed a Ministerial Advisory Committee headed by the experienced Cairns-based head of a sexual health clinic, Dr Darren Russell. Under his tutelage, the MAC restored access to effective, independent advice on HIV prevention and awareness.
This government is committed to reducing HIV transmission. Since July 2012, we have made solid progress with the MAC at the leading edge of policy development.
A Queensland HIV Strategy has been implemented and so far this year, with sustained high rates of HIV testing, a significant drop in HIV diagnoses has been recorded. From 183 new notifications in the same period last year, we are down to 159.
Queensland was the first state to introduce free rapid HIV testing as part of regular clinical practice and already more than 500 of these new tests have been conducted. That’s 500 Queenslanders who know their HIV status today and who might otherwise remain in the dark.
Through rapid testing at 16 locations in Queensland health clinics and in general practice, we can test and treat HIV earlier. Our understanding of HIV in this state is moving ahead and the results benefit all Queenslanders.
Another initiative overseen by the MAC is our three-year cross-media campaign to E.N.D. HIV. The strength of this public awareness campaign complements the implementation of rapid testing, encouraging greater knowledge and proactive support in the community.
Together these strategies will bring forward real and previously hidden cases of HIV. In a perverse sense, success in this renewed campaign will be demonstrated, not by further reductions in HIV diagnoses, but increases as rapid testing and community awareness ramps up.
Our strategy continues to evolve. This week, on December 1 it will be World AIDS Day – and a fitting occasion for Queensland to move up a gear in our HIV and AIDS campaign. On December 1, we’ll inaugurate the Queensland HIV Foundation to replace the MAC under Queensland’s Hospitals Foundations Act 1982.
We’ll see Queensland’s strong focus on HIV and AIDS advanced by an independent agency equipped to fundraise and to support research activities. Its core remit will be to advise the government on HIV and AIDS strategy and to facilitate research.
The foundation will oversee the same budget allocation of the MAC, but with greater flexibility on core decisions relating to its expenditure.
Better treatment means today HIV is a chronic disease rather than a death sentence. But it requires cooperation between all levels of government, non-government organisations and the private sector.
The HIV Foundation will be better aligned to coordinate and collaborate with these other parties to reduce HIV transmission; recommend alternative treatments and present the government with independent advice.
It will manage prevention and education activities; support hospital and health services and work with universities and academic institutions to promote HIV-related research led by Queensland.
The foundation will foster effective health promotion and safe-sex messages; contract training programs for doctors and pursue the performance targets of the government’s HIV and AIDS strategy.
When elected, the LNP promised to elevate HIV and AIDS as a major health priority and we are delivering on that promise.
I am proud to say that each of the former MAC members have agreed to serve as directors of the new HIV and AIDS foundation.
I therefore welcome Dr Darren Russell as chairman and his fellow directors Dr Andrew Redmond, Prof Jeffrey Gow, Candi Forrest, Elisha McGuiness, Penny Kenchington, David Graham and Simon O’Connor to their new roles.
I urge readers to stay tuned to developments in this important public health campaign and to help spread the message that together, we can E.N.D. HIV.