HIV/AIDS treatment accessibility under the spotlight

By Melissa Coade

December 1, 2021

Greg Hunt
Greg Hunt. (AAP Image/Lukas Coch)

The federal government has made two funding announcements highlighting the need to improve access to HIV/AIDS treatment and care services in Australia. 

Health minister Greg Hunt issued a statement announcing that $50 million in federal money would go towards HIV treatment, as well as mental health and wellbeing initiatives for Australians living with blood-borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections.

Of the overall funding, $11 million will go to peak bodies to help them continue their work supporting communities affected by blood borne viruses and sexually transmissible infections.

Another $39 million over five years has been set aside to provide treatment to an estimated 1,000 people living with HIV, who were not eligible for Medicare, the minister added. 

“By expanding treatment to more people living with HIV in Australia, we can improve health outcomes for individuals and contribute to curbing the onward transmission of the virus,” Hunt said. 

“This investment will […] provide access to appropriate and equitable HIV treatment and care.”

In Australia, 633 new HIV diagnoses were made in 2020, bringing the total number of Australians living with the immune illness to 29,000.

Hunt said that the government was working closely with stakeholder organisations to decrease the transmission of HIV in Australia. This included the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, the National Association of People with HIV in Australia, Hepatitis Australia, the Australian Injecting Drug Users League, Scarlet Alliance – Australian Sex Workers Association, and the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations welcomed the federal announcements on Wednesday as part of ongoing government bipartisan response to the pandemic. 

President of the National Association of People Living with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) Scott Harlum said that the government funding was ‘great news for a highly vulnerable group’.

“HIV positive people without access to Medicare will no longer have to rely on personal importation, drug trials or compassionate access arrangements to maintain their health,” Harlum said.

The legacy of the HIV/AIDS pandemic, which was officially reported for the first time 40 years ago, is marked on 1 December every year: World AIDS Day. This year the theme for the day of observation is ‘end equalities, end AIDS’.

Lifting the accessibility of HIV/AIDS treatment and support is a key goal of the Eight National HIV Strategy, an agreement with the participation of Australia’s state, territory and commonwealth governments.

The health minister said that access to new and flexible testing arrangements would also improve with changes to the Therapeutic Goods Administration (TGA) to increase the availability of the Atomo HIV Self-Test, the only HIV self-test approved for sale in Australia.

Under the new rules patients will now have online access, over the counter sales in pharmacies, and supply of the at-home test through organisations or institutions who work with HIV at-risk communities where there are appropriately trained staff.

CEO of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations Darryl O’Donnell said Wednesday’s government commitments would allow the broader HIV response to continue. This included a commitment to the Agenda 2025 plan to end HIV transmission by mid-decade.

“The minister’s warm support for Agenda 2025 leaves us hopeful the Government will fully commit to its implementation through a pre-election Budget,” O’Donnell said. 

On Wednesday it was also reported that Hunt was retiring from federal politics and did not plan to recontest his Victorian seat of Flinders at the next election. He will remain the health and aged care minister until the election, which is believed to be called in May next year.


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