21 years: renewing the call for government action on HIV and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

21 years: renewing the call for government action on HIV and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities

HIV Australia | Vol. 13 No. 3 | December 2015

By Linda Forbes

On the final Day of Anwernekenhe 6, Linda Forbes, Policy and Communications Manager at AFAO, gave an address reflecting on the importance of Anwernekenhe’s 21 years, the Anwernekenhe National HIV Alliance’s (ANA) ongoing relationship with AFAO and its current funding situation.

Firstly, I’m thrilled to be here and acknowledge the Arrernte people, past and present, of the land on which we meet today. I also acknowledge the Gadigal people of the Eora nation – the land on which the AFAO office in Sydney stands.

I’m here to give you a rundown of the ANA’s growth from birth, through its toddler days, the awkward teen years – some insights into what it’s been like for AFAO to guide and support the ANA in its quest to become a fully independent community-based organisation.

I’d planned to be a tad funny today – maybe get a few laughs! But in writing this it’s sadly clear to me that, while the ANA’s story is great and something to be proud of, at the moment, the state of things at the federal level is just not a laughing matter.

You’ve all heard mention of AFAO over the last couple of days – tributes to Gary Lee’s vision and passion at the very beginning; to AFAO’s Indigenous project, managed by Tim Leach, that allowed AFAO to employ the absolutely amazing Michael Costello-Czok; AFAO’s support and guidance during the development of the ANA towards incorporation; and AFAO’s financial support, pending approval of AIDS Trust of Australia’s funding, to sustain the ANA when Commonwealth funding has been withdrawn or delayed.

Well, how do we feel at AFAO? Well I must say we’re proud – that despite a lack of commitment to secure, ongoing funding from successive federal governments, the ANA now has an equal place on the AFAO Board with the other national peaks representing people living with HIV and people in the communities most affected by HIV – the National Association of People Living With HIV Australia (NAPWHA), AIVL (Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League), and Scarlet Alliance, Australian Sex Workers Association.

This means that the ANA now guides AFAO’s work; the tables have turned. The ANA has also provided input into the Commonwealth’s strategies to address HIV and Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities.

The ANA was included in consultations to develop both the current Fourth National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood Borne Virus (BBV) and Sexually Transmissible Infections (STI) Strategy, and its three predecessors.

The current strategy and those before it include a commitment that the federal government sustain and build what’s touted to be Australia’s world-leading, model response to HIV – successes including keeping a lid on HIV rates in Indigenous communities, unlike comparable countries such as Canada.

Australia attributes its success in responding to HIV to its partnership approach that ensures the meaningful engagement of people living with HIV and affected communities – a partnership of governments, community organisations, clinicians – and researchers such as James Ward.

The ANA’s and the National Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Organisation’s (NACCHO’s) input means that the Commonwealth is able to say that non-government organisations representing Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities have contributed to development of Australia’s national BBV and STI strategies.

The national BBV and STI strategies were approved in July 2014 – just in time for the AIDS 2014 conference in Melbourne and the Indigenous pre-conference in Sydney.

How embarrassing if Australia had had no national HIV strategies in place during AIDS 2014 conference and the International Indigenous Pre-conference, especially when we’ve been so proud of the fact that when the US launched its first national HIV strategy we were up to our sixth!

So, we have national strategies with actions to address HIV in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities – but something’s missing? Where’s the action? What’s happening with implementing the strategies?

Well, they’re in limbo – not yet approved 18 months into the life of the current national strategies.

Also in limbo is funding for the national HIV peaks. The ANA is by far the worst affected by this because it’s so small and poorly funded anyway but we’re all in limbo – AFAO, NAPWHA, Scarlet and AIVL as well, with Department of Health funding contracts lapsing in either December 2015 or in June next year, and tenders either undecided or not yet called. Unsettling to put it mildly.

Despite all these character-building funding adventures – we’re all here, celebrating 21 years of the Anwernekenhe. The ANA has struggled to grow and thrive – but here you all are – testament to its strength!

What a privilege to be here and to see the wonderful film on the first conference 21 years ago. AFAO now relies on and depends on the ANA’s input as an equal partner – and let’s all remember that the Commonwealth does too.

So let’s not feel too discouraged that the ANA has had ongoing funding struggles despite its contribution to the national strategies and to the international AIDS conferences in 2014. Instead, feel proud.

These achievements constitute an enduring legacy for the ANA; Australia presented the ANA’s strength and commitment to the world in 2014 and your community’s growing strength, passion and resilience has shone through over the 21 years since the first Anwernekenhe conference.

Here’s to the next 21 years!


Linda Forbes is Policy and Communications Manager at AFAO.