MOVING candlelight vigils and the announcement of significant government funding for HIV prevention, treatment and awareness campaigns marked the commemoration of World AIDS Day (WAD) in Brisbane and Cairns yesterday.
As news emerged during the day about the next phase of the ENDING HIV campaign and improved access to pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) in NSW and Victoria, Queensland Health Minister Cameron Dick had an announcement of his own with $8 million in funding going to non-governmental organisations (NGO) within the HIV sector.
“Funding will go to organisations such as the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC), whose funding was ripped away from it overnight by the [Opposition Leader Lawrence Springborg] when he was the [health] minister,” Dick said.
“Funding will go back to that organisation as well as Queensland Positive People (QPP), the Ethnic Communities Council of Queensland, the Queensland Aboriginal and Islander Health Council, Hepatitis Queensland and the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine.”
Speaking later at a candlelight vigil, Dick announced QuAC would receive $1.3m over 18 months for its HIV prevention, testing and awareness programs, while QPP will receive $3.2m over 18 months to deliver components of its prevention and awareness programs, along with treatment and management.
Speaking to the Star Observer, QuAC executive director said the partial restoration in funding was “a great start”.
“It’s a great start to funding necessary for targeted HIV prevention for gay men and men who have sex with men across Queensland,” Scott said.
“QuAC expects to use the funding diligently, working with our peers and our community to develop targeted programs and campaigns.”
The predominant message and focus during WAD commemorations around Australia yesterday was the continued advocacy surrounding access to and awareness of PrEP – a HIV prevention method – and the role that state governments can play.
With the news of the significant expansion of NSW’s PrEP trial from 300 to 3700 participants, advocates hope trials already underway in Queensland – involving 150 people – will see further growth and government funding.
Speaking in state parliament, Shadow Health Minister Mark McArdle challenged the Palazszcuk Government to match efforts being made in NSW and Victoria in regards to the preventative treatment.
“PrEP treatments are drugs used by HIV-negative people to prevent HIV infection. It is a massive step forward in the containment and perhaps eradication of HIV as an issue in this nation,” McArdle said.
“Today the health minister had a prime opportunity to stand on his feet and stand up for people with HIV or at risk of contracting HIV, and he squibbed it. Not so in NSW or Victoria.”
Dick responded, attacking the LNP’s history with HIV and described the state’s trial, QPrEP, as a “start”.
“[QPrEP] will help 50 people this year and 100 people next year. That is the start. We are committed to stopping HIV the best we can by 2020,” he said.
“We want to stop HIV as best we can in our community. That is our commitment as a government. We will not strip money away from community organisations like the [Opposition Leader].”
Despite some jostling in parliament, WAD finished on a sombre and respectful note with the candlelight vigil organised by QuAC.
After returning for the first time in seven years in 2014, this year’s vigil saw a move to one of Brisbane’s most visible CBD locations and a substantial increase in attendees.
State and local political representatives joined community members in remembering and commemorating the lives of those who have lost their battle with AIDS-related illnesses over the years, and hoping for a future without the virus.
Cairns also hosted a vigil that was attended by dozens of local community members, paying their respects to friends and family who succumbed to AIDS-related illnesses.
Adding to the stories shared by other speakers, the Infectious Diseases Unit director at the Royal Brisbane and Women’s Hospital, Dr Anthony Allworth, and “Mark” – a man living with HIV – Dick said the vigils would continue to play an important role in how the community dealt with HIV and its impact.
“We’ve come a long way since the dark days of the 1980s when QuAC was formed in response to the AIDS epidemic,” Dick said.
“As we remember those that we have lost to AIDS, let us recommit ourselves to ending the transmission of HIV and working towards a stigma-free Queensland.”