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Record numbers of people diagnosed with HIV

The situation today

The statistics don’t lie when they tell us how little Bill English’s National Government cares about us in the Rainbow communities.

Despite HIV being a disease that could easily be stopped, there were more new diagnoses of HIV in New Zealand last year than ever before, according to the New Zealand AIDS Epidemiology Group in Dunedin. 

Labour's commitment to our health

If elected into government, Labour will reverse the $1.7 billion worth of cuts to the health budget, which will allow us to restore funding to the agencies and systems that are designed to protect us, and help eliminate HIV in New Zealand by 2025.

National’s failure to care

How have we got here? New Zealand is an advanced western nation, and the tools to end this epidemic are now available to us.

Cuts to research

We could point to new behaviours and the new ways we meet prospective partners as being part of the problem. The highly successful education campaigns run by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation that we see around the niteclubs and sex-on-site venues do not capture the attention of those using online dating services or phone apps to meet.

Dr Peter Saxton, at Auckland University’s dept of Social and Community Health, told RNZ this morning that behaviour data on why we are seeing an increased risk is incredibly important right now.

However, funding for the very system designed to gather that important data has been cut entirely. Under the National Government, funding for Dr Saxton’s Gay Auckland Periodic Sex Survey (GAPSS) and Gay men’s Online Sex Survey (GOSS) has been cut entirely. The survey has not taken place for a number of years now, so the behaviour changes have become invisible once again.

Cuts to front-line groups

What else has this government done to help the situation?

Along with the GAPSS/GOSS surveys, the New Zealand AIDS Foundation has also had its funding cut in real terms over most of the National government, and this year’s budget is not looking any better for that team. The funding crisis for the NZAF has got so bad, people are starting to leave. Ten people have left so far and, just last month, the intellectual and strategic driver of the NZAF, Tony Hughes has left after his research position there was effectively disestablished.

There are now very effective ways of ensuring the most vulnerable people don’t become positive in the first place. Pre-exposure prophylaxis is now available in many countries and diagnosis rates in those countries is falling dramatically. Here in New Zealand, however, nothing.

So that’s how much commitment the National government has made to us in the Rainbow communities to try and prevent the spread of this epidemic. What are they doing to help the people who are living with HIV?

Cuts to services for people living with HIV

Despite the evidence of the health benefits of providing access to HIV medicine to all people who are living with HIV, despite the World Health Organisation recommendations, despite the US Department of Health and Human Services, Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine, British HIV Association, and a plethora of other national agencies amending their recommendations, New Zealanders STILL have to wait until their immune systems have started to deteriorate before being provided with access to lifesaving treatment. It’s like grabbing a branch just before going off a waterfall. Although that is looking likely to change in July is PHARMAC’s proposals go through, it’s an indictment on this government that it has taken this long.

And the result of the funding cuts to the NZAF means that they are having to cut back on the amount of counselling services they provide to support people living with HIV, their partners and whānau.

We hear the managers and leaders of these agencies speeches, and we read their reports, and the articles about the problems they face. They talk about the lack of political appetite to make the changes needed. They are wrong because there is an alternative to this situation.

If elected into government, Labour will reverse the $1.7 billion worth of cuts to the health budget, which will allow us to restore funding to the agencies and systems that are designed to protect us, and help eliminate HIV in New Zealand by 2025.

Vote for a fresh approach. The choice for rainbow communities has never been clearer. Do something worthwhile to end HIV in New Zealand and change the government on 23 September 2017.

 

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