Australia has a path to ending HIV transmission by the end of the decade


December 1st will mark World AIDS Day and a new report affirms that Australia has a realistic pathway to ending new transmissions of the virus by the end of the decade.

Health Equity Matters, the federation of Australia’s leading HIV LGBTIQA+ health organisations, strongly endorses a report from the Albanese government’s HIV Taskforce which broadly recommends a series of strategies to be deployed to achieve the goal.

They include making the HIV prevention pill, PrEP, more easily available and boosting its use, while also expanding HIV testing among hard-to-reach populations.  The report also calls for action that will lead to reducing any financial barriers to treatment.

Educations is also identified as a key factor in tackling the challenge, identifying a need for the government to drive greater awareness of HIV and fighting stigma by working with peak HIV bodies such as Health Equity Matters and the National Association of People with HIV Australia to develop a communication strategy through to the end of the decade.

Tackling the legal side of HIV has also been identified as an area for much needed reform, with the Commonwealth recognising a need to work with states and territories to promote reforms to laws that criminalise people with HIV.

The Taskforce was led by the Health Minister, the Hon Mark Butler and the Assistant Health Minister, the Hon Ged Kearney. The report findings will inform the 9th National HIV Strategy, which is currently under development, and will help ramp up Australia’s efforts to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030.

The Australian HIV response has been exceptional and world leading.” Minister Butler said.

“Australia has a strong, bipartisan history in our world-leading response to the HIV pandemic. However, there are still significant challenges that need to be addressed to end HIV transmission in Australia.

“The HIV Taskforce report will help ensure Australia remains on track to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030.

“I was proud to chair the taskforce and work alongside so many deeply committed people whose tireless work over many years is making a real difference to the lives of so many.” the Minister said.

Membership of the taskforce developing the report included representatives of people living with HIV, academics, health professionals, sex workers, the First Nations health sector, the LGBTIQA+ community and people from culturally and linguistically diverse communities.

Minister Butler noted the contributions from Liberal Senator Dean Smith and Labor Senator Louise Pratt, the co-chairs of the Parliamentary Liaison Group for HIV/AIDS, Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmitted Infections, saying they brought their passion and deep understanding of HIV issues in the community to the taskforce.

Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney said the release of the report would renew Australia’s efforts to tackle HIV transmission.

“HIV still matters and with the release of the HIV Taskforce report we renew Australia’s efforts to end HIV.” Kearney said.

“I was proud to serve as deputy chair on the taskforce and be inspired by the spirit of collaboration and determination of Australia’s HIV sector and those with lived experience.

“We will continue to work with the sector to eliminate HIV transmission, provide effective treatment and reduce its social and personal impact.”

Health Equity Matters chief executive, Darryl O’Donnell, welcomed the release of the report.

“The release of this report signals a rock-solid commitment to leading the world to end an epidemic.

“Inner Sydney has already been confirmed as the first community in the world to achieve the virtual elimination of HIV transmission. Australia can be the first nation.

“This report gives us a clear path, emphasising Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP), testing, treatment, awareness and decriminalisation. It draws on the powerful and effective partnership between community, clinicians, researchers and government that has served Australia so well since the start of the HIV epidemic.

“With the direction now clear, we look forward to working with the Government through the coming budget process and in the execution of this agenda. There is no easy win here – the effort required is serious, but the prize is to end an epidemic.”

The latest Kirby Institute HIV surveillance report showed diagnoses in Australia have halved over the last decade, and remained stable over the past year, with 555 diagnoses in 2022.

However it pointed to small increases among heterosexual people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and in some states and territories.

“When you are trying to defeat an epidemic, the last mile will be the most difficult,” Darryl O’Donnell said. “That is why this Taskforce’s work and the bi-partisan commitment to ending HIV transmission is so important. We cannot lose momentum now.

“I thank the Government and Opposition for backing in this agenda and making this commitment.

“If we keep our wits, we can end HIV transmission for good. This would be a profound achievement that honours the thousands of people whose lives have been lost to HIV.

Health Equity Matters warmly welcomed a new commitment from the Foreign Minister, the Hon Penny Wong to invest $12 million to support local communities and governments in Southeast Asia and the Pacific to improve HIV testing and treatment, reduce stigma and discrimination, and lower transmission.

UNAIDS and Health Equity Matters will deliver the initiative, which aims to accelerate access to new HIV prevention and treatment solutions, through community-led responses.

“The most effective way to treat and prevent HIV is to empower the people who most feel its impact,” Darryl O’Donnell said. “We endorse the Government’s resolve to fight stigma and expand access to prevention, treatment and testing.”

Graeme Watson 

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