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Wednesday 28 June 2017


MOH knew HIV research cuts would blind NZAF

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By GayNZ.com Daily News staff - 9th March 2017

The Ministry of Health was advised by its own experts as early as 2013 of serious risks inherent in not funding a core HIV epidemic study, including "loss of the ability to predict changes in behaviour, hence the ability to guide health action to prevent new infections," and that not funding it would be inconsistent with the Ministry's own policies.

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The Ministry last year advised Auckland University that it had decided not to fund the GAPSS/GOSS behavioural research study for 2017, meaning the most recent data available to HIV-prevention organisations, primarily the NZ AIDS Foundation, is now more than three years old at a time of rapidly changing sexual contact patterns and emerging new HIV-prevention techniques. Many countries with epidemics similar to New Zealand's amongst gay and bisexual men conduct this type of research every year to guide and monitor their HIV prevention strategies and programmes.

The risks, voiced to the Ministry by one of its own in-house experts, are spelled out in documents provided to GayNZ.com Daily News under the Official Information Act.

The 2013 evaluation of the advantages and disadvantages of conducting or not conducting the last iteration of GAPSS/GOSS study, said the only potential advantage identified in not funding the research was "short term cost savings."

Against that, the internal evaluation document lists a string of disadvantages inherent in not funding the research, which it says is of high quality and internationally respected.

They are:

"adverse impact on the ability of the NZAF to evaluate public health programmes for the promotion of safe sex and condom use"

"loss of information on trends in HIV diagnosis"

"loss of the ability to identify sub-groups engaged in high-risk activities"

"loss of opportunity to evaluate campaigns such as the 'get it on' condom social marketing campaign which was a major investment by the government"

"loss of the ability to predict changes in behaviour, hence the ability to guide public health action to prevent new infections"

"compromises New Zealand's highly successful response to HIV in men who have sex with men and puts the gains at risk of erosion"

"adverse impact on the National Health Board purchasing of public health prevention and support services"

"inconsistent with the UNAIDS/World Health organisation framework for HIV/AIDS surveillance"

"inconsistent with [existing] Ministry policies..."

"adverse impact on the work of other providers who are informed by this information such as public health and sexual health services."

HIV and sexual health officials have in recent years expressed publicly, and off the record to GayNZ.com Daily News, their belief that the government has lost interest in the HIV epidemic. Funding for the primary HIV prevention organisation, the NZAF, has been frozen for eight years which, when inflation is taken into account, means its funding has effectively been reduced as the HIV infection rate has soared.

Both the current Executive Director of the NZAF and his predecessor have called for the government to re-engage with the fight against the resurgent HIV epidemic which saw in 2015, the latest years for which figures are yet available, the highest annual number of newly identified infections in three decades with a clear upwards trend. Myers has been as blunt as saying the government "doesn't have HIV as a priority, doesn't have sexual health as a priority."


Dr Stewart Jessamine of the Ministry told GayNZ.com Daily News last October that the Ministry's declining to fund the GAPSS/GOSS research for 2017- it was due to have been conducted at Auckland's Big Gay Out last and concurrently online as it has in previous years - does not preclude it being funded sometime in the future.


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