plibersek_tanyaRapid HIV testing is likely to play a larger role in Australia’s response to sexually transmitted infections (STIs) after the federal government announced this week it will invest almost $30 million for prevention programs and research into blood-borne viruses including HIV, hepatitis B and hepatitis C.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) has said the $1.3 million earmarked to scale up the roll-out of rapid HIV testing across the country will help contain the spread of new HIV infections, with the latest available data showing an increase of 8.2 per cent in new HIV diagnoses from 2010 to 2011.

In 2011, more than 220,000 Australians were living with chronic hepatitis C infection while more than 200,000 currently live with hepatitis B.

Having identified the funding in the 2013 Budget earlier this year, Health Minister Tanya Plibersek said the government spent the ensuing months consulting community stakeholders before deciding on five initiatives, in total costing just over $25 million, as well as the creation of a ‘Minister’s Research Fellowship in Ending HIV’ worth $4 million.

“The $25.4 million new prevention program will focus on priority populations including gay and bisexual men, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people, culturally and linguistically diverse Australians, the young, people in rural and regional areas, and people who inject drugs,” Plibersek said.

“It is critical we strengthen our efforts, support health service providers, and tailor our safe sex and prevention messages so that they actually connect with the people most at risk.”

The government will also provide close to $5 million for the 20th International AIDS Conference to take place in Melbourne next July. It is expected to be the largest medical conference ever held in Australia with an estimated attendance of up to 25,000 people.

AFAO president Willie Rowe said the funding package was a crucial boost and came at a significant time in both the local and global response to HIV and other STIs.

“This is a great example of strong national leadership. Australia has demonstrated global leadership through its community-led response to HIV for more than 30 years,” Rowe said.

“All of the evidence shows that expanded access to testing is one of the most powerful tools at our disposal.

“Expanding the uptake of voluntary testing is critical if we are going to drive down the rate of HIV infections in the gay community.”

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