"A quick and dirty summary through a community lens"
Opening Plenary by Bridget Haire on 16 November 2016
AFAO President and post-doctoral research fellow, the Kirby Institute
This conference provides an unparalleled opportunity for us to get together – community, clinicians and researchers – and really focus on the key issues that face us in our national and regional response to HIV. And there's a lot that we need to talk about.
In the past year, we have seen some tremendous advances, such as the TGA's approval of PrEP. As you know, however, PrEP was not listed on the PBS and that means we do not have equitable access nationally. State governments in NSW, Victoria and Queensland have joined with researchers and communities to put together implementation studies of truly impressive magnitude, but the lack of a unified national approach is troubling, particularly at a time when, as we have learned this week, new HIV infections in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people have reached an all-time high. James will be providing an in-depth analysis of this, but to me, seeing new HIV infections diverging in this way speaks to a serious issue about equal access to health. In 2016 in Australia, we have the tools to end the epidemic, but these are selectively and unequally distributed.
In addition, we are seeing an increase in criminal laws that use the supposed 'threat' of blood-borne viruses (BBVs) to override human rights protection in health, such as the Northern Territory legislation that empowers mandatory HIV testing of spitters. Not that HIV can be acquired in this way – but some jurisdictions don't let science get in the way of authoritarian punitive laws. South Australia has a similar law, as does Western Australia.
So our states and territories differ considerably when it comes to providing an enabling environment for health. This is a real problem, given that the commonwealth is disinvesting, particularly in the community sector. Our national community peak organisations have experienced dire funding cuts that threaten our world famous partnership between community, research and government.
It would be remiss not to note the importance of the environment we are in internationally. In the Philippines, President Duterte has sanctioned the murder of citizens supposedly involved in the illicit drug trade. The United States has elected a president who, while notoriously unpredictable, seems likely to roll back sexual rights and to decrease critical HIV funding such as PEPFAR and the Global Fund, which still provide the lions' share of antiretroviral access worldwide. I hope I'm wrong that these two presidents are likely to influence our response negatively, but it is a future for which we must prepare.
In the meantime, we cannot allow Australian health care to become increasingly fragmented into a state-based concern. We need to continue to advocate for nationally based approaches to HIV care and prevention, and to ensure that disadvantaged populations get the attention they need and deserve.
I hope that you are going to find this conference challenging and thought provoking, as we grapple with how best to use the tools we have to ensure an effective and equitable HIV response, and that you will have the opportunity to forge new collaborations and make new friends. Enjoy the conference!
Download this Opening Plenary
Welcome to the 16th Australasian HIV&AIDS Conference - Opening Plenary by Bridget Haire on 16 Nov 2016
Report from the 2016 Australasian HIV&AIDS conference aims to help forge evidence-based responses to HIV in our region