New research figures from the Kirby Institute reveal the rate of new HIV diagnoses have significantly declined in Queensland, bucking a national trend of an increase in other states. The new data challenges the position taken by the Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg when he claimed an increase in rates was a significant reason to defund the state’s only gay health organisation.

The Kirby Institute released new data from its research for 2010-2011 today, which show a national increase in rates and number of HIV infections of 8.2 percent. However, it reported a decline of 8.3 percent in Queensland.

In June, Health Minister Lawrence Springborg claimed that that a rise in HIV diagnosis rates across Queensland was an “alarming failure” of public health policy and outcomes. He said that data had shown an increase in rates from 2.7 percent in 2000, to 5.4 percent in 2010.

Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC) executive director Paul Martin maintains that the minister was misguided when he singled out data from one year of results and claimed rates were out of control.

“There’s no disputing that HIV rates have gone up over the past 10 years and we must continue to look and re-evaluate our prevention programs. The pattern in Queensland has always been similar to what is happening around the country and, apart from one year out of the past ten, Queensland has always had lower rates. His analysis of the HIV figures was incorrect,” Martin told the Star Observer.

“Just why the national rate went up by eight percent and we decreased by eight percent, we just don’t know. We at QAHC aren’t claiming to be the cause and reason behind the decline, just as we aren’t the reason behind an increase.

“We’re continuing to see reasons given by the minister for defunding QAHC are being challenged, discounted or found out not to be accurate. It can only leave one to question what were the underlying motives. Evidence-based, rational decision making doesn’t seem to have been part of the reasons for defunding.”

A spokesman for Springborg told the Star Observer that his current plan was in line with targets set by the UN and the Australian government.

“The Kirby Institute is not prepared to accept a trend based on a single year,” he said.

“What is important in the campaign to make HIV history is to keep public awareness of HIV and STIs at high levels. The strategy adopted by the LNP government in Queensland is addressing that intention.”

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