Review of national HIV / AIDS and Hepatitis C strategies
Finding new ways to deliver safe sex messages about HIV/AIDS, increasing awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and greater involvement of GPs in the management of hepatitis C are new initiatives to control the spread of these diseases, the Federal Minister of Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, has announced.
24 September 2003
Review of national HIV / AIDS and Hepatitis C strategies
Finding new ways to deliver safe sex messages about HIV/AIDS, increasing awareness of sexually transmitted diseases and greater involvement of GPs in the management of hepatitis C are new initiatives to control the spread of these diseases, the Federal Minister of Health and Ageing, Senator Kay Patterson, announced today.
Outlining the Australian Government's response to independent reviews of the national strategies to fight HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C - commissioned by her - Senator Patterson said although much success has been achieved during the current strategies to control and respond to these diseases there is no room for complacency.
"The current national strategies for HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C run until June 2004 but the reviews have been a vital part of preparing the groundwork for the development of new strategies which will guide our responses over the coming years," she said.
"As before, the new strategies will focus on prevention and cooperation between all sectors including governments, health professionals, researchers and people infected or affected by these diseases.
Senator Patterson said she was very concerned at the increasing rates of HIV infection and what appeared to be a relaxation of community attitudes to safe-sex practices.
"It is important that people at risk of infection understand that although treatments are more effective and can prolong life of HIV-positive people, these treatments are very arduous and have significant side effects and there is still no vaccine or a cure," Senator Patterson said.
"Prevention remains the cornerstone to continued control of HIV/AIDS. There appear to be sectors of the community at risk of HIV that current health promotion and prevention initiatives may not be reaching. Sexually active young men in particular may be harder to reach with the prevention messages relating to safe sex.
Senator Patterson was concerned at the re-emergence of other sexually transmitted infections, such as chlamydia and gonorrhoea. The Government would aim to increase awareness of young people about the risks of STIs.
The review had highlighted the significant challenges posed by hepatitis C. Injecting drug users are still at the highest risk of infection.
"I would like greater focus on increased testing and improving the management of hepatitis C infection, particularly within general practice," Senator Patterson said.
"GPs can play an important part in the prevention and management of hepatitis C and I would like to see a greater focus on educating GPs about management of this insidious disease.
Senator Patterson said the Australian Government had accepted the majority of the reviews' recommendations and it was fully committed to reducing drug use and the harm it causes. The Government's Tough on Drugs policy does not include heroin injecting rooms or heroin trials.
She said Australian Government investment in prevention had paid dividends by minimising the cost to the health system of treatments for HIV and AIDS.
"For example, the Returns on Investment in Public Health Study found the estimated present value of the benefits of HIV/AIDS programs for all exposure groups is about $3.149 billion and the estimated present value of the costs of HIV/AIDS programs is $607 million," she said. " Therefore the net benefit of the programs is more than $2.5 billion."
New Ministerial Advisory Committee
Senator Patterson said while the current national strategies for HIV and Hepatitis C had until next June to run, the term of the current Australian National Council on AIDS, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases (ANCAHRD), chaired by Mr Chris Puplick, had expired.
"It is my great pleasure to announce that I have appointed Associate Professor Michael Wooldridge as the head of a new national advisory council to the Australian Government on transmissible and blood borne diseases," she said.
Professor Wooldridge, who is an Associate Professor in the Department of Neuroscience at Melbourne University, will head a new, overarching committee called the Australian National Council on HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C (Hepatides) and Sexual Health (ANCHAHS)
"I believe that Professor Wooldridge, who preceded me as Federal Health Minister, is an ideal choice to head the new governance arrangements for these diseases because he has had a wealth of experience in these fields," Senator Patterson said.
"Professor Wooldridge was chair of the Coordinating Board of the Global UNAIDS Program in Geneva during 1998-99, chair of the World Health Organisation East Asia and Western Pacific Region during 1997-98 and he led the Australian Delegation to the United Nations General Assembly's Special Session on HIV/AIDS in New York in 2001. At this session considerable gains were made in international cooperation to assist developing countries cope with HIV and AIDS," she said.
The new Advisory Committee will be supported by:
- an HIV/AIDS and Sexually Transmissible Infections (STIs) Committee chaired by Professor Frank Bowden, Professor of Medicine at the Australian National University in Canberra. Professor Bowden is an experienced sexual health and infectious diseases physician.
- a Hepatitis C and Other Hepatides Committee, chaired by Professor Robert Batey, Cojoint Professor in Gastroenterology at the University of Newcastle and a specialist in hepatitis C.
- and an Indigenous Australians' Sexual Health Committee (IASHC), to be chaired by Professor Cindy Shannon, an Associate Professor and Head of the Division of Indigenous Health at the School of Population Health, the University of Queensland.
Senator Patterson thanked Mr Chris Puplick for his many years of valuable service as head of successive national advisory councils on transmissible and blood borne diseases.
For more information contact
Sarah Higginbottom, Media Adviser, Senator Patterson's office, (03) 9657 9577.
Kay McNiece, Media Liaison, ANCAHHS, 0412 132 585