HIV/AIDS has been again thrust into the limelight with an out-of-the-blue announcement of the Queensland Government’s plan to withdraw $2.6 million of funding for the prevention of HIV infection.

Queensland Healthy Communities (QAHC), the recipients of the $2.6 million, have been contracted by the state Health Department.

As noted in QAHC’s guide to the funding cuts, “Healthy Communities receives $2.5 million annually from Queensland Health for statewide HIV, hepatitis C and STIs prevention for gay and other men who have sex with men. Gay/MSM contribute around 65 percent of HIV infections in Queensland.

“Our gay men’s HIV prevention funding is 75 percent of the funding for the organisation.”

“The LNP [Liberal National Party] Government has moved quickly to address an alarming rise in HIV diagnosis rates across Queensland with the announcement it will create a Ministerial Advisory
Committee on HIV/AIDS to review and redirect awareness and prevention campaigns,” Health Minister Lawrence Springborg stated.

“[A]nnual HIV diagnosis rates had doubled in the last decade: from 2.7 per 100,000 population in 2000, to 5.4 in 2010.”

The Australian Medical Association’s Queensland president Dr Richard Kidd told The Courier Mail he believed the reason for this jump in Queensland HIV infections was due to an increase in heterosexual sex tourism to Thailand and Papua New Guinea.

“Young men, isolated from their families, earning lots of money — and whether they are going to Thailand and having sex with prostitutes or whether prostitutes are coming in from other countries, the data doesn’t quite tell us,” he said.

“But they are both legitimate concerns.

“I would want to get that message out again about safe sex. I don’t know how much young men are aware that Thailand is the HIV capital of the world,”

If the increase of HIV infections is in heterosexual men, why is the funding for a body whose primary goal is to address HIV in the gay and “men who have sex with men” (MSM) market being withdrawn?

Why isn’t additional funding being directed towards educating heterosexual sex tourists?

Having travelled in Thailand, I know the gay community is very aware of HIV and I was able to see and access condoms easily in all nightclubs.

As part of my role as an educator and doctor, I advise all my patients to pack condoms when they are travelling to areas of 1) likely sexual encounters, and 2) potentially higher rates of HIV in groups of people whose government is not funding effective HIV treatment.

This form of education is not difficult but it takes a brave stance to be able to do it. Not everyone likes to hear it.

Offering this education does not affect my ability to also offer safe and sound sexual education to my gay and MSM clients.

If I, one single GP, am able to offer education for both heterosexuals and homosexuals, why can’t the Queensland Government? Why is the baby being thrown out with the bathwater?

Minister Springborg, absolutely it’s tragic to see an increase in HIV infections in your state, however, the current funding was never designed to target heterosexual sex tourists. QAHC’s primary goals have always been focused on the LGBTI communities. As the demographic changes, so too should your education strategies.

What hasn’t changed is that HIV is still most prevalent in gay males and MSM. Removal of funding to these groups is not going to reduce the rate of HIV infections.

Ahh, but of course it always going to be about the dollars. Here’s a suggestion — if you are worried about who is going to pay for the additional funds to teach heterosexual sex tourists to use condoms perhaps Springborg should talk to his colleague Agriculture, Food and Regional Economies Minister Tim Mulherin who recently announced a $110 million plan “to deliver new and improved racing facilities across the state”.

$110 million for horses, dogs and who else knows what running around in circles.

Seems there is plenty of money splashing around, just not if you are gay, a MSM or someone wanting to help them stay healthy.

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