HIV/AIDS groups have welcomed the release of the long-awaited fifth national HIV/AIDS strategy, while urging the federal government to ensure the document’s policy vision is put into practice.

The national strategy, which stresses homosexually active men remain the priority of HIV/AIDS prevention efforts, was released last Friday, about a year later than expected.

It recognises new challenges in HIV/AIDS prevention, including the impact of the internet on gay men’s sexual behaviour, and a perceived link between recreational drug use and risky sex.

And while the national strategy, which runs until 2008, was an important first step, more needed to be done to ensure its policy initiatives became reality, according to Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) president Darren Russell.

Overall it’s a fairly solid strategy but our concern is how it is implemented and the funding that will be attached to it, Russell told Sydney Star Observer.

Federal health minister Tony Abbott last week announced the government would fund the four national centres in HIV research until at least June 2008.

But Russell said very little other funding detail was built into the latest national strategy.

How it plays out, how it’s rolled out and how it’s implemented, we’ll have to wait and see, he said.

Jo Watson, executive officer of the National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS (NAPWA), also welcomed the release of the national strategy, but said it was only a symbolic move.

The document, if you like, is symbolic to us. It means that the government did commit a couple of years ago, while Kay Patterson was health minister, to a fifth national strategy, Watson told the Star.

She called on the federal government to implement the policies outlined in the national strategy.

That critical thing now is about how you move from a symbolic gesture or commitment to something that is going to be quite tangible and that we can measure some outcome on.

Implementation of the new national strategy will be directed by the Ministerial Advisory Committee on AIDS, Sexual Health and Hepatitis, an advisory structure formed in late 2003.

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