ROBERT BURTON-BRADLEY

Peak NSW HIV/AIDS organisation ACON has accused the federal government of ignoring treatments that could effectively end the disease and labelled its current response as “moribund”.

The assessment is contained in a position statement released by ACON on the eve of the 2012 International AIDS Conference in Washington DC.

Acting ACON CEO Geoff Honnor called on the government to “re-energise” domestic HIV prevention, saying it was dragging its feet on the fast tracking of treatments that could prevent new cases of HIV.

“What’s lacking is the national leadership, vision and determination to get Australia’s HIV response back to best practice, and it’s not so much about a massive increase in funding as it is about a massive increase in guts, will and imagination,” Honnor said.

“What we have is a moribund response that’s mired in the past while the rest of the world, particularly the US, eagerly embraces what amounts to a revolution in HIV prevention that has the potential to bring the HIV epidemic to an end.”

Emerging HIV prevention technologies such as rapid HIV testing, which is already available in most countries, was also flagged by ACON as one of the areas that needed decisive action.

“Rapid HIV testing, which is available virtually everywhere else in the world, offers a quick, cheap and accessible means of dramatically improving access to testing,” Honnor said.

“Unlike the US FDA, Australia’s Therapeutic Goods Administration maintains a closed, non-consultative application process in relation to new HIV-related therapies and devices. It’s our understanding that there’s been one device under consideration now for almost a year.”

A spokesman for federal Health Minister Tanya Plibersek gave a brief statement rejecting the criticism.

“These comments are off the mark,” the spokesman told Star Observer.

“The minister’s first overseas visit in the health portfolio is to represent Australia at AIDS 2012 where she will be discussing these issues and listening to experts from around the world.”

Earlier this month the US FDA approved existing HIV treatment Truvada for use as pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, which involves HIV negative people taking HIV medication to greatly reduce the risk of HIV transmission.

ACON also criticised the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine Panel, which examines changes to US HIV treatment guidelines, for failing to endorse recent upgrades to the US approach to treatments. However, Honnor praised HIV researchers, prescribers and the NSW Government, which he said remain dedicated to achieving the best possible treatment outcomes.

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