The Grim Reaper died in the 80s – time for a new approach to HIV prevention
In Australia, the vast majority of HIV transmission occurs between men who have sex with men. This has always been the case. While heterosexual transmission accounts for several hundred new diagnoses each year, a large proportion of these occur among people who have come to Australia from high-prevalence countries, or whose partner does.
A population-based HIV prevention campaign makes no sense if the flip side includes withdrawing funding to the organisation that targets people most at risk.
The government argues that de-funding QAHC was a response to rising HIV rates — evidence of QAHC’s lack of effectiveness — not an anti-gay agenda. But it would be a concern if HIV prevention in Queensland was to become more conservative, with little acknowledgement of the needs or interests of gay men.
Australia is known as a world leader in HIV prevention largely because the federal government at the time had the foresight to see that community-led organisations such as QAHC were best placed to deliver targeted HIV prevention campaigns to the communities most at risk.
Alongside this, state and federal governments (for the most part) have resisted heavy censoring of safer-sex messages. Health educators have been able to talk openly about sex and produce sex-positive education campaigns. This has been more effective — particularly with lesbian and gay communities — than conservative or morally-driven strategies, such as abstinence education.
The Grim Reaper campaign worked at the time because of its shock value, and because it was accompanied by funding for targeted, community-led prevention campaigns.
The recent rise in HIV rates has occurred in a very different context. A complex combination of issues are contributing to increasing HIV infections, including “safe-sex fatigue” or people’s lowered perception of “risk” in an era where anti-viral treatments are so effective.
The Queensland government may have some success in putting HIV/AIDS back on the public agenda. But debate alone will not curtail HIV infections. What’s needed now are sophisticated prevention campaigns, driven by people and organisations, such as QAHC, that understand the complexities of HIV transmission patterns in Australia at this point in history.
Jennifer Power currently works on project funded by the Australian Research Council, VicHealth, Relationships Australia (National and Victoria) and ACON. In kind (non-monetary contribution) partners on this project include the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.
This article was originally published at The Conversation. Read the original article.