The federal government has poured $13 million into HIV research, just days after Australia’s peak HIV bodies called on governments to boost the country’s research capabilities.

Federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek announced 23 research grants focused on HIV out of 1,141 grants worth $652 million as part of the National Health and Medical Research Council.

Last week, the nation’s peak HIV organisations backed the Melbourne Declaration and called on governments to increase efforts to fight HIV/AIDS in Australia.

It coincided with the latest HIV surveillance figures showing new HIV diagnoses rose by 8 percent in 2011 and had topped more than 1,000 new cases annually for the fifth consecutive year.

One of the green-lighted research proposals was Monash University’s study to explore how the factors controlling T cells affect virus expression and could potentially identify new ways to eliminate HIV infection.

“We’re pleased to see these grants have been approved, there is a lot of research and work that goes into these proposals and particulary in terms of answering the questions that they’re looking to answer,” Australian Federation of AIDS Councils executive director Rob Lake told the Star Observer.

Following the reported rise in HIV diagnoses in Australia and the Melbourne Declaration, Lake said AFAO was keen to see more social research in future.

“We are as interested in looking at HIV in the world, particularly looking at HIV prevention amongst gay men, the effectiveness of programs – what works and why?” Lake said.

“Also, particularly in the Australian context, we’re looking to see how some of these new things we’ve been talking about like rapid testing, Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis [PrEP], home testing, all of those new technologies and how they might be best used.”

Lake said the current research for many new HIV technologies were based on international trials, primarily in the US and not Australian trials.

He said we needed an Australian experience for these burgeoning technologies since we had different health systems.

“One of the biggest problems in the US is people who either aren’t able to access a HIV test or once they get a test, they aren’t able to access the drugs… that’s not really the problem we have here,” Lake said.

“We have a concern around how many people have HIV and don’t know and that’s why making HIV testing easier and simpler is a big focus for us.”

The Melbourne Declaration was backed by organisations including the Australian Federation of AIDS Councils (AFAO), Australasian Society for HIV Medicine and the National Centre in HIV Social Research.

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