De-funding Healthy Communities: a backwards step

De-funding Healthy Communities: a backwards step

HIV Australia | Vol. 10 No. 1 | June 2012

Rob Lake argues that the Queensland Government’s decision to scrap funding to Healthy Communities is wrong.

For years, Queensland Health has provided funding to Healthy Communities, to deliver on its gay men’s HIV prevention contract.

Yet, without consultation or discussion, Queensland Health Minister Lawrence Springborg announced that the $2.5 million in funding to Healthy Communities will cease within three months and, as a result, their gay men’s HIV prevention activity will cease.

The Minister has announced he will convene a new Ministerial Advisory Committee to review HIV prevention and advise on allocation to fund this work.

But you don’t have to be an expert to see that withdrawing funding from a key HIV prevention service, before forming a Committee to review HIV prevention, is going about things backward.

If the work of this Committee is performed rigorously, there is every chance it will find that Healthy Communities is delivering international best practice in HIV prevention.

It will find that Healthy Communities is a textbook example of the globally-lauded Australian approach to HIV prevention, which prioritises the involvement of affected communities and an approach that uses a combination of messages and strategies to build and reinforce safe sex behaviour over the long term.

It will likely find that Queensland Health was buying, at a relatively low price, HIV prevention services recognised throughout the world as best practice, including one-to-one support about HIV and safe sex, HIV prevention skills building workshops, condom & lube distribution, sexual health information online and effective condom reinforcement campaigns like ‘Rip & Roll’.

But when the Committee finds all this, Healthy Communities will have already been disbanded, its staff scattered and its structures lost.

Mr Springborg needed this advice before he made his decision, which, according to the Sunday Mail report was based on his personal opinion that Healthy Communities had become ‘overtly political’ by engaging with LGBT rights. Overtly political advocacy, such as the long battle to achieve the decriminalisation of homosexuality in Queensland, has been critical in limiting the spread of HIV.

A Ministerial Advisory Committee, if properly run, would inform him that a partnership with at-risk communities to deliver peer-based HIV prevention has been the cornerstone of successful HIV responses worldwide. A Ministerial Advisory Committee must also include representation from the gay community.

All other Australian states and territories fund community-based organisations that work with gay men on HIV prevention.

Taking money away from gay men’s HIV prevention, the community most affected by HIV, is illogical. Gay men in Queensland are 90 times more likely than the general community to be HIV positive.

However, the Government can still fix this.

Firstly, Mr Springborg should meet with Healthy Communities as soon as possible.

The government should then commit to maintaining the gay men’s HIV prevention funding of Healthy Communities until after the completion of the review.

It should ensure that the review will be undertaken by an external expert, be based on evidence and consultation with affected communities and the results made public.

Healthy Communities still has much work to do – pushing for easier access to and uptake of HIV and STI testing and reducing stigma and discrimination about HIV.

In my view, a proper review will find that more support – not less – is what is needed for Healthy Communities to effectively achieve its vital mission in Queensland.

Rob Lake is Executive Director of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO).