In a commentary marking World AIDS Day today, Dr Peter Saxton, of the School of Population Health at the University of Auckland, compares what he calls the bold response to HIV prevention when the then-invariably fatal epidemic first appeared three decades ago. He notes that New Zealand was then considered an international success story in its containment of the epidemic.
However, Saxton has highlighted how much the public health system's failure to fund immediate access on diagnosis to medications which can make a person with HIV "almost uninfectious" and also has benefits for their own health. The World Health Organisation has for some time now recommended prescribing preemptive medication treatment to uninfected people who for various reasons are at especially high risk of contracting the virus, which can cost over $800,000 to treat over a lifetime. New Zealand is lagging behind the rest of the world on making this treatment available.
Saxton also says New Zealand has "a disintegrating HIV and sexual health workforce badly in need of re-investment." Although Saxton does not specify which workforce he is talking about GayNZ.com Daily News last month revealed that a years-long freeze on government funding for the NZ AIDS Foundation, with no adjustments for inflation, has seen the organisation run up a half-million dollar debt as it struggles to fight the changing epidemic. And the Ministry of Health's decision not to fund the next edition of vital epidemiological research is increasingly seeing HIV programmes being instituted without access to proper, up to date, scientific data.
"We urgently need re-engagement and action on HIV. We need to address the inequities that result in 80 per cent of HIV transmission occurring among gay and bisexual men," Saxton says.