The Wisdom of Shaun Robinson

This is another very smart Kiwi

I have been mightily impressed with the work of the Executive Director of the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, Shaun Robinson, who has presided over a 33% drop in new HIV infections in the Land of The Long White Cloud. You can click here to download a podcast of last night’s Rainbow Report when he was my special guest for the last half of the show: the discussion with Shaun starts at about 25:50.

“Shaun has worked in Australia and New Zealand in a variety of roles from youth and community worker to counsellor, social issues advocate, policy advisor to politicians, health sector consultant, CEO of social and health services as well as various governance roles.” [New Zealand AIDS Foundation]

He’s also a heterosexual married man with a family, so he’s not your cookie-cutter AIDS industry bureaucrat travelling the cosy circular track from SOPV to AIDS Council to Health Ministry and back again. Coming from outside that world, and from outside the gay world too, in my opinion gives him a clear view of the job in hand. Sometimes we can be too close to see the wood for the trees. His job – and ours – is to eradicate HIV, not make accommodations with it.  Here’s what he said about one of the topics we touched on last night: stigma:

“If we can achieve zero discrimination, for example, we will see an increase in people seeking information and accessing essential services such as HIV testing. An empowered community is an HIV resilient community.”

So, are ACON, the VAC, WA AIDS etc., agitating at the Senate committee examining the exposure draft of anti-discrimination legislation to make HIV+ people a protected class, regardless of sexuality? I hope I’m wrong, but until yesterday, when the stirrer brought it to their attention, the committee seemed not to be on their radar at all. Of all HIV-related organisations, only the WA Sisters of Perpetual Indulgence, an unfunded volunteer outreach organisation, seem to have done so.

Robinson is also alarmed, as am I, and several others, about the promotion of drug treatments as a prophylactic to prevent HIV transmission:

 “The NZAF is particularly concerned that Australia’s current HIV prevention messaging is becoming increasingly focused on the use of drug-based HIV prevention strategies, with far less emphasis on the promotion of condoms.”

Key action points in the Melbourne Declaration include the need to ‘mobilise and inform people with and at risk of HIV about advances in treatment and prevention’, the establishment of ‘projects that provide access to HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis to people at high risk of HIV infection’ and the ‘fast tracking of licensing and funding of antiretroviral drugs for effective HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis’.

Robinson says, “Going down the road of promoting drug-based HIV prevention initiatives with little focus on condoms and lube is extremely dangerous. I worry that some will think popping a pill on a Friday night will give them a hall pass to have unprotected sex. There is no magic prevention pill for HIV.”

And elsewhere on the site NZAF explains why:

There are two key issues about Truvada concerning the New Zealand AIDS Foundation (NZAF).

First, that HIV negative gay and bisexual men could incorrectly assume that Truvada is as effective for them as for heterosexuals. This is not the case. In addition to the low efficacy of Truvada in trials among HIV negative men who have sex with men, unprotected anal sex is eighteen times riskier than unprotected vaginal sex for HIV transmission.

Second, that gay and bisexual men who have HIV could believe that they are 100 per cent non-infectious if they take Truvada. Again, this is not correct.

Exactly. And that’s before we get into the horrors of co-infection, as condomless HIV+ men with undetectable viral loads start catching syphilis, gonorrhea and, worst of all hepatitis C. Dr George Forgan-Smith talked about this on the show last night.

It’s all very well to say that the current VAC and ACON ads stress condom use (as VAC and LPV representatives have been telling me for the past fortnight), but in order to get that point, you have to invest time in reading and understanding the material. Complex messages tend to be skipped over to extract a simple – and in this case wrong – message. Ask anyone from my former industry – advertising and PR. Ask the Gruen Transfer!

Robinson concludes:

“Some countries, including America, have largely given up on condoms, so they are clutching at the straw of drugs as a solution.They forget that all the research says that without strong condom use, treatment as prevention won’t work.”

Robinson adds that New Zealand should be proud of its condom culture. “We should all be delighted that HIV diagnosis for gay and bisexual men dropped by over 33% in 2011. More condoms on more cocks equalled less HIV. It’s still that simple.

Can we please headhunt him? Or at least get him to knock a few Aussie heads together?


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)