Former Big Brother housemate and openly gay Queenslander ‘Farmer’ Dave Graham has been selected to serve on the Queensland Government’s nine-member Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS.

The panel was set up by Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg following his highly controversial decision to axe funding for the state’s only LGBT health and wellbeing organisation, the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC), for what he says was a failure to reduce HIV rates and too much of a focus on “political issues”.

Announcing the membership of the panel on Friday, Springborg said the new structure had an important responsibility to reverse the increase in Queensland HIV infection rates.

“Queensland is signed up to Commonwealth and UN targets for reductions in HIV transmission,” he said.

“The UN target is a 50 percent reduction by 2015. Australia’s target is an 80 percent reduction.”

The new committee is to be chaired by the director of the Cairns Sexual Health Service, Dr Darren Russell. His committee will take charge of the $2.6 million budget formerly allocated to QAHC.

“I look forward to chairing the Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS,” Russell said today.

“Challenging times lie ahead, especially with new trends in testing and treatment, which may well be part of the future to reduce the numbers of new HIV infections in Queensland.”

QAHC welcomed the announcement and executive director Paul R Martin said he looked forward to having an opportunity to provide input into the committee.

“Most of the people selected for the committee have a wealth of experience in HIV” he said.

“We are confident that these people will provide sound, evidence-based advice to the minister on how best to take forward HIV prevention in Queensland.

“Healthy Communities has a wealth of knowledge and experience in delivering HIV prevention services to gay men over the past 28 years, and we hope to have an opportunity to share.”

Martin did say, however, that there is no one on the panel who has experience in running multi-faceted, population-based HIV prevention health promotion programs for gay men.

“Given that Healthy Communities was only funded to deliver HIV prevention programs for gay men, it is strange that none of the panel seems to have significant expertise in this area,” he said.

“While there is expertise in treatment, care, peer support, research and Indigenous and sex worker health promotion, there would appear to be little expertise in gay men’s HIV prevention.”

The Committee will meet for the first time in the next fortnight.

Its members are: Cairns Sexual Health Service director Dr Darren Russell (chair), Queensland Positive People executive director Simon O’Connor, Brisbane sex worker advocate Candi Forrest, Townsville sexual health nurse practitioner Penny Kenchington, Toowoomba social researcher Professor Jeffrey Gow, Brisbane HIV/AIDS physicians Dr Andrew Redmond and Wendell Rosevear, Goondiwindi- based rural advocate David Graham and Townsville Indigenous sexual health promotion officer Elisha McGuiness.

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