The Rudd Labor Government has committed to restoring Australia’s HIV response, but has stopped short of placing a dollar value on it.
The comments have been welcomed by the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), which has called for better leadership in the fight against HIV infections across the country.
AFAO executive director Don Baxter said national leadership faltered under the previous government and Commonwealth investment in AIDS programs was allowed to decrease over the last decade.
“Yet HIV infections have been on the rise for the last five years in all states except NSW,” he said.
HIV infections increased by 41 percent from 2001-2006, while funding for Australia’s key HIV research centres dropped by 10-15 percent.
Baxter said while the Labor Government had not offered a financial commitment, he was “reasonably hopeful” its response would meet the challenge of increased infection.
In a reply to an AFAO questionnaire in the lead up to the election, Labor said it would consider developing a second National Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategy upon completion of the current strategy in 2008.
It would also consider changes to the highly specialised drugs program to provide more convenient access to antiretroviral therapies for people living with HIV/AIDS, and examine the idea of a chronic illness healthcare card.
Baxter said the Government needed to renew its focus on health prevention and promotion in the fight against HIV/AIDS, after its emphasis shifted to hospitals and acute care during the election campaign.
Federal Health Minister Nicola Roxon told SSO the Labor Government believed prevention, education and community awareness were important defences against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“The foundation of Australia’s successful response has been close collaboration and partnerships between affected communities, all levels of government, and the health and research sectors, as well as adopting innovative health promotion and prevention initiatives,” she said.
“These are practices Federal Labor will build upon, in close consultation with stakeholders.
“We would be willing to consider other proposals to improve the effectiveness of efforts to combat HIV/AIDS.”
Health promotion that supports people to sustain behaviour change is the best tool we have, Baxter said, “so prevention remains everybody’s business”.
“Keeping health promotion relevant for people at risk of HIV requires leadership, commitment, creativity, good research, and adequate funding,” he said.
“We look forward to federal Labor working with us to restore an effective response.”

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