Chief Minister Andrew Barr has said his government would approach community-based testing for HIV and other sexually transmitted infections with an “open mind”.
The AIDS Action Council has used a joint budget submission with Hepatitis ACT and Sexual Health Family Planning ACT to call on the ACT government to fund a community-based sexual health testing program.
The council’s executive director, Philippa Moss, told the Sunday Canberra Times the ACT was the only state or territory in Australia that did not offer community-based rapid HIV testing.
She said more outreach work needed to be done in order to turn around increases in sexually transmitted diseases.
Tests needed to available in safe locations so people did not just need to go to their general practitioners, Ms Moss said.
She said communities that were hard to reach, including men who had sex with men, often did not access primary health care.
“We provide services at the AIDS Action Council two nights a month, where people can come and get tested. No Medicare, no name … It’s quick, it’s easy and simple and it’s run by peers,” she said. “We need more of that out in our suburbs and we really need it run by the community organisations, who’ve got the peer base, so it’s friendly.”
Speaking to the Sunday Canberra Times at the SpringOUT Fair Day, part of an annual queer pride festival, Mr Barr said there was a sound basis for community-based testing.
“We are seeing [with] the advent of drugs like PrEP that some of the same-sex messages of the ’80s and ’90s need to be refreshed,” he said.
Mr Barr said the territory government would need to assess its role in a program alongside the Commonwealth and national strategies.
“I would hope that the Commonwealth would have a role to play as well and I would be surprised if they wouldn’t be part of that,” he said.
The joint budget submission includes a proposal for a $293,000 service that would fund 1000 community-based tests a month over a three-year period.
“The ACT now lags significantly behind comparable jurisdictions, and many low and middle income countries, in terms of the mix of cost effective testing options available to increase testing,” the submission said.
“Unless the testing options are increased the ACT will not be able to meet the ambitious goals and targets established in the national strategies.”