Preparing a new (HIV) foundation

Preparing a new (HIV) foundation

LAST UPDATED // Friday, 22 November 2013 17:47 Written by // Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw interviews Dr Darren Russell, chair of the Queensland Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS (MAC), and soon to be chair of the HIV Foundation Queensland, which comes into existence on World AIDS Day, December 1.

Darren Russell, why has this new HIV foundation been created?
I think what it will do is give us more flexibility and [allow us to] reply more rapidly to any issues that arise. It means we’ll have a budget, we’ll have a small number of staff who’ll be able to actually do a lot more. Rather than be an advisory committee, we’ll be able to implement some things.

Will there be a shop front, somewhere to interact with the community?
We don’t know yet. We don’t get up and running till the first of December and we’ll have our first meeting on December 4 – these are some of the issues we’ll have to nut out then. There will be a transition phase from the MAC to the full operation of the foundation, it’ll take some time to sort that out. Presumably we’ll get an office somewhere in the city.

The main difference is that there will be staff and a base, personalising what the MAC’s been doing so far?
We’ll obviously need to appoint someone to run the foundation, the day-to-day operations of it. I don’t think any of us is envisioning a very large  organisation. I think we’ll try to keep it pretty lean. We’ll have to see where it goes into the future.

It’s not going to be somewhere where people can come and access rapid testing for HIV, for example?
We don’t know yet, that’s far too far into the future to see that happening. If there are other places doing rapid testing we may not need to do that. There are probably other ways to do rapid testing that may be more cost effective than getting the foundation to do it itself, for instance.

The Minister said on Queer Radio last night that rapid testing was a priority and that GPs would be providing it. Will that be a cornerstone of the foundation’s aim – rolling out rapid testing to GPs?
To GPs amongst others, yes. It may not be the sort of thing that’s suitable for every GP in Queensland. We’re initially going to be rolling it out to the high case load GPs, those GPs that see a lot of gay guys. It’ll mainly be in the central Brisbane area and a couple in Cairns as well, probably. But it may be over time that more decide to get involved. We’re also looking at doing some pilot studies in emergency departments in Queensland and any other places or community venues we can get it into.

It will be a priority. We need to diagnose more people with HIV so they can take steps to not transmit it any more. If people don’t know they’ve got HIV it makes it harder for them to not transmit it.

Would you like to see a situation where any GP could offer rapid testing for HIV as part of their regular practice?
Personally, I’d like to see a situation where you could go down to the local pharmacy or order one online and do it yourself at home. Or if you wanted to go to a GP, you could. That would be ideal, but whether it’s really feasible to roll it out to every general practice, I doubt that. I couldn’t imagine that general practices in Thargomindah or Woorabinda would leap at the opportunity to do it. The return on investment would probably be too poor for that. You’d want to roll it out where it’s likely you’re going to make some diagnoses.

The new foundation will be able to receive bequests and fundraise – will that be in addition to the funds currently overseen by the MAC?
That’s my understanding, that those funds will be rolled into the foundation. Then there will be the opportunity or ability to raise money. At the moment, as the MAC, we can’t receive bequests, under a foundation’s legal structure we could accept bequests. So if someone wanted to donate money to us they certainly could.

The Minister still has to authorise grants to community groups?
Any large decisions, any large financial matters, would certainly be running through the Minister’s office. He’s in charge, he’s a got a real interest in working with HIV.

Judging by his radio interview, the Minister appears to know a lot more about HIV than he’s popularly credited with. Does he need to get out there and talk about this issue more, talk to the LGBTIQ community more?
I’m not going to tell the Minister what to do! [laughs]. But what I will say is that I agree that he does have an impressive knowledge of HIV and I’ve said this before: he has the best knowledge of any person in politics that I’ve met, on either side of politics. He’s obviously got a passion for this area and he wants to make a difference.

Healthy Communities is looking to change its name to the Queensland AIDS Council. What do you think about that?
It’s up to their board where they think their direction should be going, it’s not for me to tell them where they should be going. That’s a decision for their board.

Does the state need two organisations that are in a sense rival AIDS councils?
I don’t see us in that capacity. I see the foundation as having an overall remit for matters to do with HIV in Queensland. It’s perhaps a bit broader than what some of the AIDS councils around the country’s are, where they’re only focused on gay men when it comes to HIV and perhaps GLBT health more broadly. We won’t be getting into that and our HIV work will be broader than just gay men; although obviously that’s where most of the work is going to be involved because that’s where most of the epidemic is.

There was a meeting of the MAC yesterday, are all its members going across to the foundation?
All eight members have put up their hands for going across to the foundation. We’re a great team. We work well together, we’ve had robust discussions about things and we’re all passionate about reducing the number of HIV diagnoses in Queensland and keeping the numbers down, and we’ll keep doing that.

Is Healthy Communities likely to get Health Department funding via the foundation?
At this stage I would say no. But I don’t have a crystal ball to see six months, twelve months, five years down the track. But in the very near future I would say no.



Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw

Andrew Shaw is editor of Queensland Pride.

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