Rainbow Report on HIV Prevention


At the beginning of the month it was World AIDS Day, and I think it’s fair to say that it passed off with rather less attention than everyone involved would have liked. There were stories floating around the net about poor responses to red ribbon sellers, barely any TV celebrities sporting red ribbons, and a general dearth of coverage. In fact, it looked to me like a bit of a fizzer.

Which is alarming, because here in Victoria we are seeing a spike in new infections. The 2012 HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmissible infections in Australia Annual Surveillance Report found there was an increase of almost 100 cases in the past year, a rise of 8%, after cases of infection had been stable over the previous four years.

Victoria saw the biggest increase in new cases, and now has the highest rate of HIV infection in the country. 75% of cases occur among men who have sex with men. In other words, as Victorian gay men, “Houston, we have a problem.”

I’m joined in the studio by Jim Hyde, who has a long history in Public Health and gay community advocacy. He was GM of Victorian Aids Council/Gay Mens Health Centre and later Victorian Director of Public Health, when major new investments were made in HIV prevention.

He thinks we have done a good job with HIV prevention – it’s just not good enough, and part of the failure, he says, is that policy makers – including himself till recently – took their eye off the ball. And he says that we must base prevention campaigns on evidence, not what we hope or believe or think will work.

Also with us, the current Victorian Aids Council/Gay Mens Health Centre Executive Director Matt Dixon, who has also worked in Public Health: he was formerly Senior Policy Officer in the Victorian Department of Health. We’ll hear from him about the current prevention work the VAC is undertaking, which hasn’t met with universal approval.

Whatever the reasons, and whatever the solutions, there’s a general sense that current campaigns are not working, and unease about some of the alternatives being offered.

Meanwhile we have rather a different situation in New Zealand. 2010 was the worst year on record for HIV among gay and bisexual men, since the epidemic began. But in 2011 there was a more than 33% drop in new HIV infections among gay and bisexual men. and a further 6% drop in the first half of 2012 – the lowest HIV rates in ten years.

Clearly, they know something we don’t. Nick Laing, New Zealand Aids Foundation General Operations Manager manages both the HIV Prevention and Health Services divisions of the Foundation – he joins us on the line. We’ll ask him how they did it. Was it the Get It On campaign?

Riding shotgun with me in the studio this week, James Newburrie.

What’s your take? Got any questions? How do we stop the rising rate of infections that seems to be happening mainly among young gay men? Why are so many taking such risks, and how to we persuade them not to? Let me know. Email me before the show.

Listen at 1900hrs AEDST on Joy 94.9 Melbourne Australia, or live online/via the free smartphone app, at this link.

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About the author

Veteran gay writer and speaker, Doug was one of the founders of the UKs pioneering GLBTI newspaper Gay News (1972) , and of the second, Gay Week, and is a former Features Editor of Him International. He presented news and current affairs on JOY 94.9 FM Melbourne for more than ten years. "Doug is revered, feared and reviled in equal quantities, at times dividing people with his journalistic wrath. Yet there is no doubt this grandpa-esque bear keeps everyone abreast of anything and everything LGBT across the globe." (Daniel Witthaus, "Beyond Priscilla", Clouds of Magellan, Melbourne, 2014)