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Royal Commission into Victoria’s Mental Health System

Case study:

HIV/AIDS public health reform

Since the first case of AIDS in Australia almost almost 40 years ago, Australia’s public health response to HIV/AIDS has been underpinned by a partnership approach between the Commonwealth Government, state and territory governments, people with and affected by HIV, community organisations, researchers and clinicians.

Australia’s HIV/AIDS public health approach has consisted of a broad range of prevention and promotion strategies delivered in many settings over several decades. Current efforts are guided by the Eighth National HIV Strategy 2018–2022.

Ms Alischa Ross, former CEO of YEAH, a national health promotion organisation focused on youth‑led sexual health and HIV awareness initiatives, said Australia is globally recognised for its approach to addressing HIV.

Starting from the first National HIV strategy in 1989, Australia’s response is built on a partnership approach at all levels of government, and most importantly, engaging the communities that are directly affected and the priority populations most at risk. Our early response was one of the first times that governments sat down with affected communities as equal players at the decision‑making table and that’s really what a partnership approach focused on action and outcomes is about.

Ms Ross said the partnership approach had been effective because of the implementation of targeted and nationalised initiatives with shared goals and indicators to measure impact.

It’s important to consider the interplay between areas of government where there are shared responsibilities to coordinate effective public health responses. Implementation plans over the years have drawn on different expertise, whether that’s community groups in terms of advocacy, health promotion and prevention, or clinicians in terms of workforce development, treatment and research.

Ms Ross said the public health responses since the early 1990s, as well as the evolution of HIV treatments, have helped guide responses to other infectious diseases and public health challenges and have therefore made a major contribution.

HIV has taught us many of the best practices that guide our current approaches to coordinated public health responses. In the case of HIV, addressing issues around stigma and discrimination have enabled wide spread prevention education and encouraged people to get tested and access treatment and support early.

Mr Simon Ruth, CEO of Thorne Harbour Health (formerly the Victorian AIDS Council), said the involvement of community organisations has been a driving force in achieving tangible outcomes.

The community response in HIV has always been incredibly strong. It was through the campaigning from those groups, where we really pushed the notion ‘talk to us not about us’, that we started to get capital investment in research from government to work with them to address HIV.

Sources: Australian Government, Eighth National HIV Strategy 2108–2020, [accessed 9 November 2020]; RCVMHS, Interview with Alischa Ross, November 2020; RCVMHS, Interview with Simon Ruth, November 2020.