A new Queensland HIV strategy that includes gay men as a priority group heralds improved relations between the AIDS sector and government and should help tackle rising infection rates, AIDS groups say.

Queensland Health launched the six-year HIV, Hepatitis C and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategy at a World AIDS Day lead-in event in Brisbane on Sunday.

The $21.7 million strategy follows a 19 percent rise in HIV diagnoses in Queensland in 2004, and a cumulative increase of about 40 percent since 2001. New infections were predominantly recorded among gay men.

We need an enhanced way of tackling these growing rates, Queensland Health minister Stephen Robertson said.

He said education and prevention, treatment and health professional training would be priorities under the new strategy.

Scheduled to run until 2011, the plan also allocates $100,000 in one-off funding to the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC), on top of the approximately $1 million it receives from the state government each year.

The additional money would fund a 24-hour-a-day automated information hotline for gay men, QuAC general manager Paul Martin told Sydney Star Observer. QuAC would also use the funds to review its workshops and HIV testing procedures.

Martin said QuAC’s relations with Queensland Health were much improved after earlier controversy over the department’s decision to put the state’s HIV/AIDS services to tender in 2003.

Following the tender process, QuAC received a funding cut, forcing it to shed staff and relocate offices. Critics have claimed the tender strategy distracted HIV agencies from addressing new infections.

But this week Martin said QuAC was supportive of the new AIDS plan and its whole-of-government approach.

I think for too long HIV and gay men’s HIV has been seen as: -˜Well, that’s the role of the AIDS Council to do that,’ he said.

While we have an important role to play, there are many other people in the community and in society and in services that also need to be playing their part.

Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations executive director Don Baxter welcomed the new strategy.

It’s a welcome move given the mess the government created previously with the tendering out of the services, he told the Star.

The additional $100,000 for the Queensland AIDS Council is welcome, but in light of the rises -¦ we would like to see it built into their ongoing budget.

We look forward to the Queensland government and Queensland Health having a much better relationship with QuAC and with the AIDS sector generally.

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