07 Jul 2018
35th Anniversary marks transition to Thorne Harbour Health
7 JULY 2018 - In the lead up to their 35th anniversary, LGBTI health organisation and Australia’s oldest HIV/AIDS organisation, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has announced they’re changing their name to Thorne Harbour Health. The new name recognises two visionary community leaders in the organisation’s history of advocating for the health and wellbeing of both people living with HIV (PLHIV) and LGBTI communities — Alison Thorne and Keith Harbour.
“It’s been a carefully considered decision, one that was informed by feedback from our members, volunteers, staff, and stakeholders. AIDS Councils are trusted insititutions in Australia, but our evolution as a community-controlled organisation has seen us outgrow our identity as ‘the Victorian AIDS Council’. We’re now working with a broader range of LGBTI communities — delivering programs and services interstate and nationally,” said VAC President Chad Hughes.
“Thankfully, we’re at a point in the epidemic where having an AIDS-defining illness is rare in this country, and the majority of people living with HIV are seeing the health benefits of highly effective treatment options.”
VAC CEO Simon Ruth added, “Thorne Harbour Health gives us a fantastic opportunity to tell our story to a whole new generation of people. Alison and Keith represent a much larger group of community leaders, activists, and advocates who worked, and in many cases continue to work, for the health and wellbeing of our PLHIV and LGBTI communities.”
“We’re incredibly proud of where we have come from, and we’ve made that legacy central to our new brand identity.”
In June 1983, during Melbourne’s first community meeting about the emerging HIV/AIDS epidemic, one voice stood out amongst the hundreds of people at the Royal Dental Hospital that night — that of lesbian activist and queer liberationist, Alison Thorne. Alison motivated and mobilised the meeting by asking ‘what are we going to do about this and how can we do it? We need to form an organisation’. A few weeks late, a follow up meeting was held at the Laird Hotel resulting in the formation of what was to become the Victorian AIDS Council.
Keith Harbour was VAC’s President from 1987-89. As an inspiring leader, Keith mobilised the community from high-level political policy to grass-roots activism with the AIDS Coalition To Unleash Power (ACT-UP). Keith continued to work tirelessly to get access to lifesaving medicines for PLHIV. In a special ceremony convened by the then Governor of Victoria, Keith was awarded the Order of Australia medal at his bedside at Fairfield Hospital before he died in 1991.
Thorne Harbour Health will make this announcement at the 35th anniversary of the organisation on Saturday 7 July at Experimedia in the State Library of Victoria.
24 May 2018
LGBTIQ Women’s Health Conference Announces 2018 Keynote Speakers
The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), in partnership with ACON, is excited to announce the keynote speakers for the 2018 LGBTIQ Women’s Health Conference. The conference, now in its fourth year, is the only national summit for LGBTIQ women’s health in Australia.
2018 keynote speakers will include:
Jerril Rechter – Jerril is the CEO of VicHealth. She is a World Health Organization Advisor, Chair of the International Network of Health Promotion Foundations, and Board Member of the Western Bulldogs Football Club.
Alison Thorne – Alison is a socialist feminist. She is the managing editor of the Freedom Socialist Organiser and a founding member of Radical Women in Australia. She is a lifelong LGBTIQ liberationist.
Naomi Fontanos –Naomi is a feminist and a long-time advocate of the Filipino transgender, lesbian, gay, bisexual, intersex, and queer (TLGBIQ) community. She is the Executive Director of Gender and Development Advocates (GANDA) Filipinas.
Sally Rugg – Sally is the Executive Director of Change.org and the former campaign director of GetUp! where she worked at the forefront of the marriage equality campaign.
Roj Amedi – Roj is the Senior Human Rights Campaigner at GetUp! as well as a writer and editor.
The conference will be opened by the Minister for Health, Jill Hennessey, and additional keynote speakers are still to be announced.
“We are thrilled by this year’s line-up. We’re confident this diverse and inspiring group of women will inspire a robust discussion about how we can better address LGBTIQ women’s health and empower those women in attendance,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.
“We’re tackling an ambitious portfolio of issues in just two days, including: sexual health, ageing, mental health, activism and feminism, breast and cervical cancers, trans health, living with disabilities, leadership, alcohol and other drugs, rainbow families, domestic and family violence, sex work, marriage equality and the refugee and migrant experience.”
This year’s theme ‘Research, Resilience, Respect’ is aimed at exploring existing research into LGBTIQ women’s health. Furthermore, this year’s conference will highlight the need for further research — to acknowledge the resilience and strength of LGBTIQ women as well as pay respect to all LGBTIQ women’s communities.
The conference, initiated by VAC in 2015, was born out of the realisation LGBTIQ women’s health is largely overlooked by both LGBTIQ and mainstream organisations.
In 2016, VAC partnered with ACON to co-present the conference, which expanded to a two-day event in 2017 with over 300 attendees from all over Australia.
LGBTIQ Women’s Health Conference will be on 12-13 July 2018 at the Jasper Hotel 489 Elizabeth Street Melbourne. For more information and registration, visit: lbq.org.au.
20 May 2018
L.O.V.E. Expands to Recognise LGBTIQ Community Volunteers
Now in its second year, the LGBTI Organisations Volunteer Event (L.O.V.E.) is expanding to recognise the contribution of community volunteers to the work of Transgender Victoria (TGV) and the Australian Lesbian and Gay Achives. They will be joining the event’s founding organisations - the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC), JOY and Switchboard Victoria, as they honour longserving volunteers and celebrate the vital role volunteers play on a daily basis.
Following last week’s National Volunteers Week, L.O.V.E. is returning to St Kilda Town Hall on
Thursday 31 May. Hosted by Dani Weber, the night will include performances by shOUT youth orchestra and Raina Peterson as well as a panel exhibition by the Australian Lesbian and Gay Archives from ‘Victoria’s Very Queer History’.
“After the success of last year’s LOVE event, JOY’s ongoing involvement was never in question,” said JOY CEO Tennille Moisel.
“Our community was built on the passion and contributions of people dedicating their time, and it seems only fitting that we should recognise this contribution at both the individual and broader community levels. JOY is proud of our volunteers and thankful that year after year we are able to continue to operate because of their ongoing support.”
TGV Treasurer Sally Goldner added, “Transgender Victoria is excited to be part of the expansion of L.O.V.E.! As a volunteer-run organisation, we are grateful every day for the immense difference our volunteers make in the lives of trans and gender diverse Victorians and their families. Through supporting our organisation, they’re helping TGV to continue to advocate and educate for positive change.”
While the night recognises the major milestones for 5, 10, 15, and 20 years of volunteer service, this year will also include a remarkable 25 year milestone for two VAC volunteers - Robert Mann and Dominic Whitehouse .
“As we near our 35th anniversary as a community-controlled organisation, recognising those volunteers that have been with us for incredible stretches of that history is truly an honour for us,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.
“We’ve learned throughout our history that LGBTI communities are only able to truly thrive when they’re supported by a foundation of committed and passionate volunteers willing to donate their time and talents.”
28 Apr 2018
New Campaign Aims to Shift LBQ Drinking Culture in Regional Victoria
Lesbian, bisexual, and queer (LBQ) women in regional Victoria will be supported to re-think their relationship with alcohol thanks to a new project by Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) and health promotion foundation VicHealth.
The ReThink the Drink project will be launched at this year’s Bendigo Queer Film Festival, April 27-28 and is the first of its kind addressing alcohol culture change amongst LBQ women in Victoria.
ReThink the Drink seeks to inspire alcohol culture change amongst LBQ women living in regional Victoria. Studies have shown LBQ women engage in risky drinking behaviours at higher levels than their heterosexual counterparts.
The project includes a print and digital campaign that calls for women to share their story online.
The campaign, which uses the tagline ‘Couldn’t Have Done That with a Hangover!’, was developed with LBQ women, who asked for a motivational and positive approach.
“The approach has been driven by lesbian, bisexual, and queer women in regional Victoria who have helped design how this campaign looks and feels. We need to work together if we’re going to tackle alcohol culture change amongst these communities,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.
“We’re very excited to see this campaign roll out and start an important conversation with those regional communities about the impact alcohol is having on their lives.”
VicHealth CEO Jerril Rechter said Rethink the Drink is an important step in increasing social support for low-risk drinking among some LBQ women.
“Our vision is to see people supporting one another to reduce risky drinking, resulting in reduced harm for the individual, their family, people in the vicinity, and the broader community,” Ms Rechter said.
“Rethink the Drink is about showing how risky drinking can hold us back from doing the things we love. Life really is better without the hangovers.”
ReThink the Drink will be rolled out in Ballarat, Geelong, Morwell, and Bendigo and is part of VicHealth’s Alcohol Change Initiative.
08 Mar 2018
HIV community mourns the loss of Tony Maynard
Today, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) has lost a longstanding and dedicated champion in the response to HIV and AIDS with the passing of Tony Maynard. Serving on the current VAC board, Tony’s longstanding commitment to addressing HIV in Australia goes back over 30 years — as does his involvement with VAC. Tony served at VAC’s first Treatments Officer during the height of the epidemic.
Tony was passionate about ensuring no one was left behind in the HIV response and that everyone could access the treatment, care and support they needed. Tony served at the Senior Education Officer at the Australasian Society for HIV Medicine (ASHM). He worked with ACON in the Enhanced Primary Care Project as well as with the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA) as their Treataware Project Officer. He also worked together with pharmaceutical companies to help bring vital HIV drugs to market in Australia.
With an established focus on HIV treatment throughout his career, Tony was excited to join the VAC board at a time when biomedical prevention’s role in ending HIV was being fully realised with the introduction of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and the impact of an undetectable viral load in people living with HIV.
In the 1990s, Tony’s work in the PLWHA program when deaths from AIDS were a weekly, sometimes daily, occurrence was characterised by sensitivity, care, generosity of spirit and genuine regard for the clients — many of whom were friends of Tony’s from the community. He could often be seen sharing a meal or a coffee with clients, talking through treatment options and encouraging people to never give up hope - often in the face of seriously debilitating illness and the tragic reality of facing death. For his own part, he never allowed the toll of the epidemic to show, always cheerful with a wicked sense of humour he was always ready with a smile and a welcome, no matter how difficult the circumstances or the issues he was facing with his clients and friends.
Looking back on his career, a colleague recounted how Tony assisted a young HIV positive couple to access vertical transmission prophylaxis, prior to the publication of the landmark study, so that they had a healthy, HIV negative baby. In a world before the internet, knowing that this information was out there before publication was truly remarkable. Tony was incredibly knowledgable and he genuinely cared about people.
“Today, we lost piece of our history and our legacy,” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth. “As a community-led organisation, we are indebted to LGBTI community elders like Tony who have stayed with us — from our formation in response to HIV through to our current battles to ensuring the ongoing health and wellbeing of our LGBTI communities.”
VAC President Chad Hughes added, “Tony brought a wealth of experience and wisdom to VAC. His legacy is woven into the fabric of so many of the organisations that played a vital role in the Australian response to HIV and AIDS. We will miss his unwavering dedication but will feel the impact of his valuable contribution in perpetuity.”
09 Feb 2018
National access to breakthrough HIV prevention drug to become a reality in Australia
9 February 2018 - The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) welcomes today’s announcement that the Pharmaceutical Benefit Advisory Committee (PBAC) is recommending pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) to be listed on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme (PBS) — making this gamechanging tool for HIV prevention accessible across Australia.
Globally, PrEP has proved to be highly effective at preventing the acquisition of HIV. In May 2016, the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved PrEP for use in Australia, but the drug remained expensive to acquire. Meanwhile, demonstration trials launched across Australia to make PrEP available to those communities most at risk of acquiring HIV. These trials have played an important role in making PrEP accessible until it could be listed on the PBS, but with each state independently launching trials, access has been inconsistent nationally.
“There’s no doubt that PrEP is a highly effective tool in HIV prevention. The challenge has been making sure it’s accessible and affordable,” said VAC President Chad Hughes.
“Today’s decision allows for a way forward, to fully realise PrEP’s potential in helping us see a future with no new transmissions of HIV in Australia.”
Victoria has seen a significant community interest in PrEP in recent years and VAC has worked alongside community organisations, researchers, politicians, and consumer groups to work toward making this important HIV prevention tool within reach.
VAC CEO Simon Ruth remarked, “The community demand for PrEP is undeniable. Victoria’s PrEP-X trial became one of the fastest enrolled PrEP trials in the world and has seen the trial expand into South Australia and Tasmania. The communities we’re working with have made it clear that they want to be able to look after their sexual health. PrEP allows them to do so with confidence.”
The Australian Government has previously committed to adding PrEP to the PBS following a positive recommendation from PBAC.
“We commend the Australian Government on their standing commitment to add PrEP to the PBS in a timely manner following the PBAC recommendation. This demonstrates a firm commitment to seeing an end to HIV in Australia,” Mr Ruth added.
“Today’s announcement is reflective of Australia’s history in responding to HIV and AIDS - community led organisations working alongside clinicians, researchers, and government for a way forward. We applaud the efforts of AFAO, as well as community advocates like PrEP’d For Change and PrEP Access Now that have furthered the dialogue around PrEP and that have empowered the community to advocate for this breakthrough prevention tool.”
29 Jan 2018
VAC mourns the loss of passionate harm reduction giant Jenny Kelsall
Longstanding advocate for harm reduction approaches to drug use, Jenny Kelsall, passed on Saturday marking the loss of dedicated community leader with an extensive career that contributed to the development of programs and services that support the community response to HIV and other blood borne viruses.
Most recently, Jenny served as the Executive Officer for Harm Reduction Victoria where she encouraged safer drug use and empowered drug users to find solutions and strategies for the better part of the past decade. Prior to that, she served for several years as part of a multi-discipline research team at the Burnet Institute, a team who was the first to identify a hepatitis C epidemic among people who inject drugs in Australia.
Having worked closely with Jenny over the years, VAC President Chad Hughes was saddened by the news and acknowledged her incredible contribution.
“Jenny was completely dedicated to the people she served. She committed herself tirelessly to ensuring evidence based harm reduction was available to people who use drugs both here in Victoria, and elsewhere. She was incredibly bright and steadfast in her advocacy fighting for the health and welfare rights of the community,” he said.
“She demonstrated how, by opening her heart and making personal sacrifices, she could make a tremendous contribution that benefited the lives of many. I’m a better person for knowing her — as are countless others.”
Her legacy includes an incredible portfolio of peer-based research and education initiatives across Australia and Asia in the areas of HIV, viral hepatitis & injecting drug use spanning over nearly three decades.
VAC CEO Simon Ruth said, “Jenny’s legacy serves as a reminder of the strength of a community-led response in the face of Herculean challenges such as HIV and viral hepatitis. Her collaborative approach ceaselessly worked toward bringing drug law and national policies in line with public health objectives.”
12 Jan 2018
Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey back for 2018 at Midsumma Carnival
The Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) along with the Centre for Social Research in Health (CSRH) and the Kirby Institute at UNSW will be conducting the Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey (MGCPS) during the first week of the Midsumma Festival, this annual survey takes a snapshot of sexual practices men who have sex with other men in relation to the transmission of sexually transmitted infections, including HIV.
From Sunday 14 January at the 2018 Midsumma Carnival Day through Sunday 21 January, gay and bisexual men who have sex with men (MSM) will be asked to participate in the survey at a range of locations across Melbourne, including medical clinics, social venues such as pubs and bars, and sex-on-premises venues. Only Melbourne men who have had sex with another man in the past five years should complete a survey form, as well as men who don’t live in Melbourne but who regularly participate in the Melbourne gay community. The survey is completely anonymous, and the results are communicated later in the year via LGBTI and other media, through public meetings and seminars, in online reports, and through journal articles.
First conducted in Melbourne in 1998, the short survey takes a snapshot of gay men’s sexual practices related to the transmission of sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including HIV. The survey is important because it gives a snapshot of the lives of gay and homosexually active men in Melbourne from year to year. It allows comparisons to be made over time and for a picture to emerge of the changes in sexual practices and partnering habits, drug use, HIV and STI rates, and testing habits.
The Periodic Survey is also conducted in other states during gay community festivals so that comparisons can be drawn between states. Data from the surveys are used to form local and national sexual health promotion campaigns and education strategies.
“All same-sex attracted guys are welcome to complete this annual survey — gay, bi, trans and non-binary both HIV negative and HIV Positive,” said the survey’s Victorian coordinator, VAC’s Tex McKenzie.
“New questions added this year include adding the gender assigned at birth and a question asking if participants have been vaccinated for Hepatitis A and B. And not all questions need to be answered by everyone; there are specific questions for men who are living with HIV as well as general questions that everyone can answer.”
VAC CEO Simon Ruth added: “The Periodic Survey is an important piece of research that helps us target not only campaigns around HIV and STI-prevention, but around mental health issues and alcohol and drug use in our community as well.”
“The data we gather from the survey over time is an invaluable resource for both state-based and national campaigns.”
16 Oct 2017
HIV and AIDS sector mourns the loss of activist and visionary leader Levinia Crooks
Tireless HIV/AIDS activist, researcher, mentor and visionary, Levinia Crooks died in Sydney on Sunday evening after a long battle with illness.
Levinia’s work in HIV/AIDS has spanned the epidemic in this country. Levinia was the first Executive Officer for the National Association of People Living with AIDS (NAPWA, later to become NAPWHA) and she was the President of the AIDS Council of New South Wales (ACON) from 1988 – 1989 and 1991 – 1992. Levinia was also instrumental in the work of the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation (BGF), one of Australia’s longest running HIV and AIDS charities. Typical of her no nonsense, practical approach to issues, she has spoken on the need for such a charity in the early days of the epidemic, “In an environment like that you have to act. It is wrong that you have to act, it is wrong that you have to establish a parallel process. But there is a period of time in which you do have to do that.” BGF continues its important work to this day.
For the last 18 years Levinia held the position of Chief Executive Officer of the Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM). During her tenure Levinia elevated the profile and breadth of ASHM through her professionalism, research insight and overall vision of the role the organisation would play both nationally and in the region.
“It is probably difficult to think of another person who has had the kind of influence that Levinia has had over the course of the last three decades of the epidemic,” said Chad Hughes, VAC President.
“Her career began at a time when there was little hope for people living with HIV and she was instrumental, not only in the areas of care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS but at important moments in prevention such as her role in the drafting of national guidelines for the provision of post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP).”
“Levinia’s commitment to the work of HIV and AIDS activism ranged from her roles in community based organisations, direct contact and care for people living with HIV and AIDS to high level collaboration with researchers, politicians and policy makers to advance HIV medicine in this country and the care and support of people living with the virus,” said Simon Ruth, VAC CEO.
“The range of Levinia’s research interests is formidable. She contributed to work on counselling, service capacity, combination therapy, health promotion and HIV and the law,” added Chad Hughes.
“At every level, her contribution furthered debate in substantive and important ways. Her leadership legacy is one of partnership, collaboration, vision and courage and in many ways she will be impossible to replace.”
04 Sep 2017
VAC encourages the LGBTI community to look after their wellbeing with ‘Equality Mixtape’
FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE
4 SEPTEMBER 2017 - In the face of the public debate around marriage equality, the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC) is calling out for suggestions to add to the ‘Equality Mixtape’ on social media. The fun and collaborative initiative is being used to encourage the community members to take a moment out of their day to enjoy a ‘pride’ anthem.
Following some of the negative messaging aimed at LGBTI communities during the ongoing debate around marriage equality and the impending postal survey, the ‘Equality Mixtape’ initiative aims to bring the LGBTI community together to share their favourite music as well as fond memories linked with some of the pride anthems. Everyday until the end of the postal survey, VAC will be posting another track on social media and invite the community to take five minutes out of their day to let go and enjoy the music.
“With the Marriage Equality debate bringing out a lot of negative sentiments it has been an emotionally taxing time for a lot people. We wanted to send out some positive energy, and long before we were depicted in movies and television, the LGBTI community has found our own stories in music. ” said VAC CEO Simon Ruth.
“Music has been an outlet for our community to find escape, build resilience, and celebrate with pride in the face of hard times. We’re hoping to continue that tradition, and share some feel good stories along the way.”
Started as a small social initiative amongst staff, VAC is now encouraging members, volunteers, and the broader community to submit songs and stories via VAC’s Facebook and Twitter accounts. A selection of the submitted songs will be shared on social media as well as being played during Well, Well, Well on Monday from 8PM on JOY 94.9.
For more information, contact:
(03) 9865 6700
29 Aug 2017
More than 35 national health organisations unite for equal marriage
36 leading national health organisations have called on the Federal Government to put an end to marriage discrimination and legislate for marriage equality.
More than 35 leading health organisations across the nation have united together and called on the Federal Government to legislate for marriage equality and put an end to marriage discrimination.
Tiernan Brady, Executive Director, The Equality Campaign welcomed the statement, “It’s easy in the middle of all the politics to forget what or rather who this is about.
“Marriage equality is about real people, our friends and family, teammates and work colleagues who just want the same dignity as everyone else in their families. This statement by so many groups representing the people who take care of the health and well being of all Australians is an important and timely reminder of this.
“Our laws should never deliberately marginalize and exclude one group of people. It is time for our politicians to do their job and pass marriage equality. Our family and friends deserve better” Tiernan Brady continued.
Nicolas Parkhill, CEO of ACON said, “There is conclusive evidence that LGBTI people experience higher levels of depression, anxiety disorders, self-harm, suicidal ideation and suicide compared to the general population because of stigma, prejudice,
discrimination and exclusion. These health conditions are exacerbated by the ongoing marriage equality debate in this country. This protracted discourse is harming people, creating segregation and contributing to poorer health outcomes.
“We call on our elected representatives to recognise the negative health consequences of marriage discrimination, to legislate for marriage equality and to improve the health and wellbeing of LGBTI Marriage equality is beyond politics – real people, Australian families, dignity and importantly, health, are at the centre of this issue” Nicholas Parkhill said.
“The Marriage Equality debate is harming the health and wellbeing of Australians. We do not need to debate any longer. We do not need a $160 million plebiscite. What we need is to treat LGBTI Australians with the same dignity and equal rights as everyone else,” Simon Ruth, CEO, Victorian AIDS Council.
“Young people overwhelmingly support marriage equality and tell us it’s a really important issue to them. For ReachOut, supporting marriage equality is a ‘no brainer’," ReachOut CEO, Jono Nicholas said.
For information on the LGBTI communities’ response to the senate inquiry that provides a cross-party pathway for marriage equality go to: http://www.equalitycampaign.org.au/welcome-senate-report
MEDIA: Clint McGilvray 0413 285 186
Leading Health Organisations on the United Statement for Marriage Equality
AIDS Action Council of the ACT (AACACT)
Australasian Society for HIV, Viral Hepatitis, and Sexual Health Medicine (ASHM)
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO)
Australian Healthcare and Hospitals Association
Australian Lesbian Medical Association
Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation (ANMF)
Australian Primary Health Care Nurses Association (APNA)
Australian Women’s Health Network
Black Dog Institute
Centre for Culture, Ethnicity & Health
Chronic Illness Alliance
Drummond Street Services
EACH Social and Community Health
Family Planning Alliance Australia
Family Planning NSW
Family Planning Tasmania
Family Planning VIC
Family Planning Welfare Association Northern Territory
Life Without Barriers
Mental Health Australia
Mental Health First Aid
The Equality Campaign is the national campaign to win marriage for all Australians through a vote in Parliament.
Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC)
Public Health Association of Australia
Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC)
Sexual Health Quarters (i.e Family Planning WA)
Shine SA (i.e. Family Planning SA)
Tasmanian council on AIDS Hepatitis and Related Diseases (TasCHARD)
Victorian AIDS Council (VAC)
Western Australian AIDS Council (WAAC)
24 Jul 2017
2017 Melbourne Gay Periodic Survey Results
The results of this year’s Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey demonstrate a growing community confidence in the efficacy of biomedical HIV prevention strategies amongst gay men and other men who have sex with men (MSM). This includes a nearly threefold increase in the uptake of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) and over 97% of men living with HIV on treatment having achieved an undetectable viral load (UVL). The 2017 results also recorded the highest ever level of HIV testing which has increased over time to 90% of men in the survey - continuing the upward trend over the last several years.
Conducted by the Centre for Social Research in Health at UNSW, the 2017 survey captured the responses of 2,956 gay men and other MSM to a broad set of questions related to sex, relationships and sexual health.
The proportion of men using PrEP increased from 6% in 2016 to 16% in 2017, with most of the men on PrEP in the 2017 survey (84%) obtaining it from a research study or trial. In Victoria, PrEP has been made available through the PrEP-X study, sponsored by the Victorian Government, Alfred Health, and the Victorian AIDS Council (VAC).
VAC CEO Simon Ruth said that these findings add momentum to prevention efforts across the community.
“This is further evidence that when it comes to HIV prevention, gay men are at the forefront in protecting themselves and others. When taken consistently, PrEP is proven to be close to 99% effective at preventing HIV.”
“What we need now is for the Commonwealth to list PrEP on the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme as soon as is possible to ensure all people at risk of HIV can benefit.”
Over 99% of men living with HIV in the survey reported being on HIV treatment and over 97% of those men in treatment having an undetectable viral load – meaning they are not infectious and cannot pass on HIV.
“HIV positive men are playing a substantial role in the low rates of new HIV infections by working to maintain an undetectable viral load,” said Brent Allan, CEO of Living Positive Victoria.
“There is increasing evidence that UVL amongst men living with HIV will be a key factor in the decline of new diagnoses in Australia.”
The majority (87.7%) of HIV positive men who have condomless sex with casual partners reported UVL as their primary risk reduction strategy.
“Biomedical HIV prevention tools mean that safe, condomless sex is possible; however, PrEP and UVL won’t protect people from other STIs so it’s important that sexually active men test regularly to maintain their sexual health and wellbeing,” Mr Ruth said.
The 2017 survey results around testing are encouraging with 77% of men testing for HIV in the previous 12 months (the highest level recorded in the survey) and an increase in the proportion of men reporting 3 or more HIV tests in the previous year (30% in 2017). Over 92% of men living with HIV reported an STI test in the previous 12 months, and STI testing amongst HIV negative men is continuing to rise with nearly 78% having tested in the past 12 months.