Published: July 14, 2014

 The Victorian AIDS Council has raised concerns over the Federal Government’s latest National Strategies on Blood Borne Viruses and Sexually Transmissible Infections, saying there isn’t enough of a focus on gay men.

While the VAC’s CEO Simon Ruth admitted the strategy had many good points, however he raised concerns over the lack of reportage when it came to gay men with HIV.

“Although gay men and other men who have sex with men are mentioned elsewhere in the document, the absence of the group that constitutes the majority of Australia’s epidemic in the Strategy’s Goals and Targets seems an odd omission,” Ruth told MCV.

“The targets seek to sustain the low general population rates of HIV in ATSI [Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander] communities, sustaining the virtual elimination of HIV amongst sex workers and injecting drug users, but where are the goals and targets for gay men?” he said.

A spokesperson from the Federal Department of Health responded to MCV, statied: “The targets of reducing sexual transmission of HIV by 50 per cent by 2015, increasing treatment uptake by people with HIV to 90 per cent, as well as the goal of working towards the virtual elimination of HIV transmission in Australia by 2020, all relate directly to the priority populations of gay men and other men who have sex with men, and people living with HIV (of whom the majority are gay men and men who have sex with men).”

The National Strategies were launched by the Federal Minister for Health Peter Dutton and Victorian Minister for Health David Davis and included a range of targets and law reform.

HIV Home ban testing lifted

One of the most notable announcements made was the removal of restrictions banning the sale of HIV home self-tests in Australia, allowing Australians to test themselves in their own homes.

“Companies can now apply to the Therapeutic Goods Administration for approval to supply their tests kits and if they meet Australia’s rigorous standards and are approved, will be able to be sold direct to consumers,” Dutton said.

The home tests, which will most likely involve a mouth swab, will be used as a screening device, Living Positive EO, Brent Allan explained to MCV, after concerns were raised about the lack of pre and post counseling with home testing.

“The home testing is actually home screening, so we need to think about the same way that we think about pregnancy tests,” Allan said.

“What happens is you might test positive, but then you have to go in and get a full screening to see if you’ve been infected. If you look at the other cultures where they have home testing, the pros outweigh the cons.”

One of the other strategies in the national platform was amendments to the prescribing and dispensing arrangements for antiretroviral therapies, allowing people living with HIV to pick up treatment at a pharmacy of their choice.

Allan said it will make a ‘huge difference’ to people living with HIV.

“Reducing barriers to make sure they are compliant to the drug is extremely important,” he said.

“It has put the control in the hands of the person living with HIV. It means you have control over the virus instead of it being in control of you.”

It was also announced that a new Hepatitis C medication is being considered by the Pharmaceutical Benefits Advisory Committee.

The medication is the first in a group of new anti-retroviral medications for people living with chronic Hepatitis C.

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