Feds commit $44m to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030

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The funding will ‘turbocharge’ progress and boost access to testing and treatment for underserved populations.

The federal government has committed $44 million to boost HIV testing and treatment initiatives nationwide, with the goal of eliminating HIV transmission in Australia by 2030.

The investment, provided as part of the 2024-25 federal budget, will fund a range of measures targeting HIV prevention, testing and treatment and would be delivered with the assistance of community groups who were “vital” to engaging with hard-to-reach population groups at risk of HIV, the announcement said.

The centrepiece of the funding injection is a $26 million investment to provide subsidised access to PrEP for individuals who aren’t eligible for Medicare, a measure directly aligned with advice put forward by the national HIV taskforce, led by federal Health Minister Mark Butler and Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney,

The taskforce provided delivered its final report featuring 25 recommendations across six sections in November 2023. These included expanding access to POCT and self-testing through “local and regional testing initiatives and peer-outreach models”, as well as investigating options for a community-supported application to MSAC for an MBS item for HIV point-of-care-testing.

Dash Heath-Paynter, CEO of the national federation for HIV community response, Health Equity Matters, told Health Services Daily the taskforce’s recommendations would “turbocharge” progress towards the federal government’s target of zero transmission by 2030.

“The leadership shown by Health Minister Mark Butler and Assistant Health Minister Ged Kearney in spearheading this Taskforce is commendable, [and] their efforts have resulted in a report that provides a clear roadmap for virtually eliminating HIV transmission in Australia,” Mr Heath-Paynter said.

“The report’s emphasis on PrEP, testing, treatment, awareness, and decriminalization is spot-on.

“These strategies, coupled with the strong partnership between community, clinicians, researchers, and government, have been the backbone of Australia’s response to the HIV epidemic.

“Looking ahead, we are eager to collaborate with the Government in implementing this agenda. While the task ahead is challenging, the potential to end the epidemic is a prize worth fighting for.”

According to Mr Heath-Paynter, improving service delivery for historically underserved and marginalised populations when it comes to equitable access to HIV testing and healthcare services was vital to addressing discrepancies in HIV transmission rates and improving health outcomes.

“The Taskforce report recommends targeted initiatives to address more challenging aspects of Australia’s epidemic, such as rising cases among culturally diverse and overseas born gay and bisexual men, and priority populations living in rural and outer metropolitan areas,” he said.

“Despite the encouraging Kirby Institute report last year showing a halving of HIV diagnoses over the past decade, we must remain vigilant.

“The slight increases among heterosexual people, Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander peoples, and in certain states and territories underscore the importance of the Taskforce’s work and the multi-partisan commitment to ending HIV transmission.”

In a statement issued to Health Services Daily, Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM) CEO Alexis Apostolellis said the organisation was “very supportive” of the taskforce’s findings and implementing its recommendations would make substantial progress towards achieving the federal government’s target of zero transmission by 2030.

“Increasing testing rates was a significant and welcome focus for the HIV Taskforce Report,” Mr Apostolellis said.

“A key recommendation from the HIV taskforce report is to make antiretroviral therapy for HIV free Australia-wide, which would ensure cost is no longer a barrier to treatment, [with] state and territory governments implementing a new scheme last year which means people living with HIV without Medicare can access treatment free of charge or at low cost.

“Continuing to reduce or remove co-payments for HIV medicines and prevention measures like PrEP will help eliminate cost as a barrier, [but] we need to do better at facilitating access to new and effective testing technologies, including point-of-care and self-testing.

“We also need to work towards ending discriminatory laws and policies that discourage people from testing for HIV.”

Other measures funded through the federal government’s investment include:

  • $3.8 million over two years to implement a national HIV testing vending machine initiative.
  • $3.7 million over two years for peak HIV organisations to continue activities that support the national response to HIV.
  • $3 million over two years from 2024-25 for the continuation of the Emen8 website.
  • $2.5 million over two years from 2024-25 to expand the national HIV self-test mail out program.
  • $2.1 million over two years from 2024-25 to continue funding for the HIV Online Learning Australia.
  • $1.6 million in 2024-25 to develop a workforce education and training pilot on HIV prevention.
  • $1 million in 2024-25 to establish a national HIV multicultural peer navigation program.

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