Federal health minister Tony Abbott has assured the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) the government is committed to continuing funding for HIV/AIDS research.

During a recent meeting between Abbott and AFAO president Dr Darren Russell in Canberra, Russell sought the minister’s commitment to renewing the three-year contracts for the National HIV Research Centres, which are funded only until the end of 2006.

That was something he was keen to continue, Russell told Sydney Star Observer.

The minister was particularly interested in this and we really got a commitment from him to try to maintain the funding for these very important national research centres. That was one of the best things to come out of the meeting.

Russell urged the federal government to take a more forthright role in leading a revitalisation of Australia’s response to HIV/AIDS.

From our point of view it’s been very disappointing and very difficult to get HIV back on the national agenda, Russell said.

But now with the imminent release of the 5th National HIV Strategy we’re hoping that will be overcome to some extent.

The 5th National HIV Strategy will outline the government’s commitment to HIV funding and research and is likely to be released on 1 July, more than 18 months late.

A spokesperson for Abbott told the Star she could not confirm the release date but expected it would be mid-year.

Russell raised with the minister his concerns about the United States encouraging abstinence as the best way to beat HIV/AIDS.

Russell said Abbott indicated he really didn’t want to see Australia go down that particular path.

It’s well known he prefers the abstinence model when it comes to sex, but he’s enough of a realist to know we live in an imperfect world and that it’s not going to work for the majority of people.

Russell also asked why the results of a government review of AFAO, completed in 2003, had not been released. The review was to decide if AFAO should continue being funded at the same level and whether the organisation should be put on two-year contracts.

The minister indicated he would look into it, Russell said.

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