Concerns budget measures will undermine HIV prevention efforts
There are growing concerns within the HIV sector that efforts to curb HIV rates in Australia will be severely impacted by the Abbott Government’s budget measures.
On the eve of the new financial year, HIV experts met with Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King and Deputy Opposition Leader Tanya Plibersek for a roundtable meeting.
Among those in attendance were representatives from ACON, the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations, National Association of People Living With HIV/AIDS, Positive Life NSW and National LGBTI Health Alliance, as well as Organisation Intersex International Australia.
Speaking with SX shortly after the meeting, King said health measures outlined in the 2014-2015 budget were “counter to everything that we know about good health policy development” and their implementation will undermine HIV prevention in the country.
“The retrograde steps in the budget are incredibly disappointing and will have a significant impact on the health system as a whole and HIV prevention across the board.”
The HIV sector is poised to lose out on government funding with cuts to the Department of Health’s Flexible Funds totalling $197.1 million over four years. The Flexible Fund is made up of 18 funds, which includes the Communicable Disease and Service Improvement Grants Fund, where the bulk of HIV funding comes from.
While funding has been extended for six months as new funding arrangements are decided, uncertainly now looms over many HIV programs.
Other areas of concerns are increases to co-payments for medicines in the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which will rise by $5 to $42.70; cuts to hospital funding to the tune of $15 billion over four years; and the overhaul of preventative health agencies.
Of most concern is that the proposed $7 GP co-payment will become a barrier to HIV testing, with fears people will avoid seeing a GP or getting a blood test because of the charge.
Labor has made it clear it will not support the measure or any other alternative model to GP co-payments.
“Everybody in the room agreed that making it harder to see you GP, making it harder or costlier to get tested, making it more difficult or costlier to get regular treatment that keeps you healthy, is dumb,” Plibersek, who is the former federal health minister, said.
King questioned the Federal Government’s national HIV strategy, to be released in July, in the face of such cuts.
“It’s one thing to announce the strategy at the International AIDS Conference in Melbourne, but if they don’t back it up with the money and the commitment to progress reform, then it’s not going to be worth the paper it is written on,” she said.
[Image] Shadow Minister for Health Catherine King