QUEENSLAND AIDS Council (QuAC) will be the recipient of $150,000 in funding to address HIV and sexual health issues in regional Queensland after an announcement made this morning by state Health Minister Cameron Dick.
Speaking at the opening of day three of the World HIV and STI Congress in Brisbane, Dick said a focus on rising rates of HIV and STIs across the state was an issue the government needed to move on.
[showads ad=MREC]“I have heard some of the very personal stories of Queenslanders affected by HIV,” Dick said.
“I have heard of their daily battles to fight not just their diagnosis of this infection, but also the stigma associated with it.
“While there remains no cure – at this stage – for HIV, there is hope…. we believe in Queensland we can end new HIV transmissions by 2020 if everyone knows the facts about HIV.
“I will be providing $150,000 to (QuAC) for a regional Health Promotion Officer to provide outreach support in the Darling Downs, Gold Coast and Sunshine Coast regions.”
A component of this year’s state budget in health spending was the allocation of $5.3 million towards a specific sexual health strategy for Queensland, a first for any state in Australia.
The budget also saw the restoration of the state’s most utilised sexual health clinic, Biala, that was majority closed in 2013 following cuts by the local Metro North Health and Hospital Service.
Speaking to the Star Observer, QuAC executive director Michael Scott said: “QuAC has been extremely concerned at the lack of targeted education towards gay men and (men who have sex with men) who are most at risk of HIV transmission in Queensland.
“The minister clearly understands the importance of primary healthcare for our community and understands that organisations need to do ‘more health promotion and less self promotion’ when it comes to sexual health.
“We are particularly alarmed at the increasing rates of HIV and other STIs across Queensland, and we are pleased that the current government sees the value in funding a community based, non government organisation which uses the peer based model so successful across Australia.”
Dick told the Star Observer that his government was “very keen” to work with QuAC.
“QuAC has a long history of deep community engagement. It’s come from the community and as a government and as the Minister for Health, the only way to address health issues in a deep and committed way over a long period of time is to work with the community,” Dick said.
“We can’t do it on our own in government, we have to reach out… so our government is very keen to support QuAC. There are many members of the parliamentary Labor party who are strong advocates and supporters of QuAC, myself included.
“We want to make sure that we’re working across all areas of the community to improve health outcomes and QuAC has a very solid and committed history in delivering that.”
During the election campaign earlier this year, the then-Labor opposition committed restoring funding to QuAC after the previous Liberal-National government’s decision to strip it of $2.5 million in 2012.
This commitment was recently reaffirmed when a motion calling on the Palaszczuk government to refund the organisation passed unanimously at a recent state Labor conference.
“The commitment we’ve made today… is a very important start. We have to look at all of the organisations working in the HIV space,” Dick said.
“I want to make sure that they’re all working effectively, that they’re working collaboratively, if we need to change structures in government down the track, we’ll look at that also but for the time being we’ve very keen to support QuAC and the work that they do in the community.”
The regional outreach funding will see QuAC once again extending its services to the Gold Coast after the organisation had to withdraw from the region following its defunding – a return that has been welcomed by Scott.
Being able to reach out to the other regional centres of Sunshine Coast and Darling Downs will see a greater delivery of specific sexual health awareness and education for isolated communities.
“QuAC has maintained networks in regional Queensland that have been developed over decades. It is because we have existing networks within these regions that allows us to immediately and efficiently provide services from day one,” Scott said.
“We will tap into existing networks and develop these networks to ensure our peer-based education reached the men it needs to reach in the Darling Downs.
“Collaboration and partnership is the key. We don’t aim to reinvent the wheel and will listen to the needs of people.
“Gold Coast faces specific challenges with health promotion. The transience of the community means that our health promotion must be innovative to be successful.”
According to Scott, it is the necessity of personal community involvement, working in conjunction with other strategies, that lies at the heart of QuAC’s plan to deliver effective STI and HIV awareness and education campaigns.
“Whilst we will have a strong focus on health promotion through social media, we will not simply sit behind our keyboard,” he said.
“We’re ready to roll up our sleeves and get the job done though face to face health promotion with our community.”[showads ad=FOOT]