NACCHO Aboriginal & Torres Strait Islander Health News: Funding to eliminate HIV transmission

feature tile, HIV under microscope; text 'Additional $19.7m to improve access to HIV, BBV and STI testing, treatment, information and care'

The feature tile includes a colourised transmission electron micrograph image showing HIV particles (in blue) budding from a white blood cell. Image source: Australian Academy of Science webpage Zero HIV transmissions in Australia by 2020.

The NACCHO Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Health News is platform we use to showcase the important work being done in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health focusing on the work of NACCHO, NACCHO members and NACCHO affiliates.

We also share a curated selection of news stories that are of likely interest to the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health sector, broadly.

Funding to eliminate HIV transmission

The Australian Government is delivering on its commitment to eliminate HIV transmission in Australia, and address the health disparities experienced by LGBTIQA+ people. An additional $19.7m in the 2023–24 Budget will ensure better access to HIV testing, treatment and information, including support for the HIV workforce and to continue to address other Blood Borne Virus (BBV) and Sexually Transmissible Infections (STI).

The Government will:

  • expand access to HIV treatment for people who are ineligible for Medicare to ensure no one is left behind
  • extend the HIV testing vending machine pilot to increase access to HIV testing for students in South Australia
  • fund the Emen8 website, a critical information hub for sharing HIV information for members of the LGBTIQA+ community
  • fund the HIV Online Learning Australia program to provide up-to-date education and training for the HIV workforce
  • provide additional support for BBV and STI peaks ($2.9 million) including for the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) and National Association of People with HIV in Australia (NAPWHA) to drive the national response
  • provide funding to ACCHOs for BBV and STI testing, treatment and care services for First Nations Australians ($5.0 million).

This investment continues the implementation of the Eighth National HIV Strategy (2018–2022), and provides a platform for the important work of the HIV Taskforce, announced by the Government in December 2022, encompassing the development of the Ninth National HIV Strategy. It will bring Australia closer to its goal of ending HIV transmission by 2030.

The Government is also developing the 10 Year National Action Plan for the Health and Wellbeing of LGBTIQA+ people and will establish an LGBTIQA+ Health Advisory Group to break down barriers to accessing health care.

To view Minister Butler’s media release Eliminating HIV transmission and ensuring health equity for LGBTIQA+ Australians in full click here.

blue gloved hand holding 4 vials of blood with labels HCV,HBV, Syphilis & HIV

Image source: PHN North Western Melbourne website.

$15m+ to improve health infrastructure

Ten new major capital works projects will improve health infrastructure in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities across the country. Projects include building and renovating clinics, constructing houses for health workers, improving ventilation and cooling in clinics and building the overall capacity of Aboriginal Community Controlled Health Services (ACCHS). More than $15m will be provided to successful applicants through today’s announcement of Round 1 of the Indigenous Australians’ Health Programme – Closing the Gap – Major Capital Works (MCW) program. These projects are the first of the 52 grants which were announced at the Joint Council on Closing the Gap last December, totalling more than a $120m investment.

The existing stock of ACCHS infrastructure is between 20–40 years old and in significant need of repair, reconstruction and/or enhancement. Ongoing rounds of capital works will provide better care for First Nations patients and attract and retain essential health workers in some of the most remote communities in Australia.

Deteriorating and inadequate infrastructure can compromise service delivery, pose safety risks for patients and staff, and inhibit efforts to attract workers. Best practice clinical care can also be compromised by the inability to accommodate an increase in patients and deliver multidisciplinary integrated care. The grants have been co-designed in partnership with NACCHO on behalf of the ACCHS sector. Once completed, the projects will provide First Nations people with culturally safe care in quality surroundings, particularly in remote and very remote locations.

To view Minister Burney’s media release $15.45 million for major capital works in First Nations communities in full click here.

old Armajun Health Service building & new health clinic completed June 2021

Armajun Aboriginal Health Service (AAHS) moved into a new building in June 2021. Image source: AAHS website.

Study highlights success of youth program

Minister for Police and Corrective Services, Mark Ryan, says a State Government funded youth program involving a partnership between Queensland Police and the Johnathan Thurston Academy has been proven to significantly reduce juvenile offending among its participants.

The University of the Sunshine Coast (UniSC) conducted an independent review into the JT Academy initiative, You Got This, developed in 2021 and sponsored by the QPS. The program is designed to boost the courage and self-belief of disadvantaged young people aged between nine and 16 years. The study found significant reductions in criminal offending by at-risk teenagers taking part in the You Got This program in Cairns.

17 You Got This programs have been delivered across Queensland, including Cairns, Mareeba, Mount Isa, Townsville, Logan, Zillmere and Brisbane City. Jonathan Thurston said he is “so proud of the young people who are showing up to this program and keep showing up
for themselves.” He said, “This is an amazing group of young adults with so much potential. To see the changes they’re making in themselves and their commitment to take a different direction in life just blows my mind.”

To view the Minister for Police and Corrective Services and Minister for Fire and Emergency Services, the Hon. Mark Ryan’s media release Study finds success in Far North youth program in full click here.

Johnathan Thurstan at Yarrabah PCYC last week for YouGotThis Program

Johnathan Thurstan at Yarrabah PCYC last week for YouGotThis Program. Image source: Cairns Post.

ALOs linked to drop in hospital self-discharges

Dr Morgan Berman, an orthopaedic registrar at the hospital, said prior to the introduction of liaison officers a high percentage of Indigenous patients were self-discharging before their treatment had concluded, and in some cases even before surgeries. “Risk factors for self-discharge were younger in age, pensioners or unemployed. They were more likely to be residents of Alice Springs town camps or live in communities within 51–100km of Alice Springs Hospital,” he said. “Some Indigenous men and women are sceptical of Australia’s health care system. The ALOs played a key role brokering appropriate treatment and insured significantly fewer Indigenous patients self-discharged before they had concluded treatment.”

As part of his research, which was unveiled at the Royal Australasian College of Surgeons Annual Scientific Congress in Adelaide this week, Dr Berman analysed patients who had been admitted to the hospital in the nine months prior to the ALOs introduction, and in the nine months following. He found there had been a 37% reduction in self-discharge among Indigenous patients.

The above has been extracted from the article Self-discharges drop by more than a third at Alice Springs Hospital published earlier today in The Chronicle.

main entrance to Alice Springs Hospital at night

Alice Springs Hospital. Image source: The Daily Telegraph.

Adequate health support in jail not a given

Aboriginal organisations are “fighting for scraps” and prisoners are crying out for better health support while authorities funnel millions into a $1.1b jail sitting idle in Victoria. The decision to build Western Plains Correctional Centre was made pre-COVID-19 when detainee numbers were increasing, Corrections Victoria Commissioner Larissa Strong explained yesterday. Inquiry commissioner Travis Lovett suggested the same amount of money could have made a huge difference to the land’s traditional owners, the Wadawurrung people. Aboriginal organisations were missing out in the meantime, he said.

Commissioners also noted prisoners had to fight to get adequate health support in jail. Commissioner Sue-Anne Hunter said detainees were “crying out for mental health facilities, putting in form after form, not wanting to complain and not wanting to upset any prison guard because they know that their form won’t get through”. Officials conceded that while they were exploring whether there could be direct Aboriginal Health Service delivery within prisons, a recently signed primary health contract had a five-year lifespan.

Ms Strong accepted it could be of great benefit to Aboriginal prisoners if they were able to serve sentences in the community. As of Monday, more than 820 Aboriginal people were in adult prisons in Victoria, representing 12.5% of the state’s entire prison population, she said. Earlier, Youth Justice officials told the inquiry they were determined to achieve zero Aboriginal young people in custody, regardless of legislative change.

To view the Kyabram Free Press article Prisoner health neglected while $1.1b jail sits idle in full click here.

main entrance of Western Plains Correctional Centre

Image source: Community Safety Building Authority, Victoria State Government website.

Vaping crackdown draws global acclaim

In the most significant tobacco and vaping control reforms in years, the Albanese Government has announced a range of measures aimed at reducing the prevalence of tobacco use, its associated harms and reducing the risk of a new generation of people becoming addicted to nicotine. The Government will work with state and territory governments to restrict the import and sale of vaping products, increase minimum quality standards for e-cigarettes to make them less appealing, reduce allowed nicotine concentrations and ban all single use, disposable e-cigarettes.

Many public health leaders have welcomed the news, including the World Health Organization’s Director-General Dr Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus. Emeritus Professor Simon Chapman, a longstanding advocate for tobacco control, said in a statement: “Like plain packaging, countries around the world will be lining up to copy Australia. The Government has again stared down Big Tobacco. All companies wanted to be able to sell these products through cooperative retail outlets with years of form in selling tobacco and illegal vapes to kids.”

Dr Raglan Maddox, program lead of the Tobacco Free Program at the Australia National University, said: “We know that people who don’t smoke but use e-cigarettes are around three times as likely to take up smoking as those who don’t use e-cigarettes…these measures are a much welcome step toward accelerating reductions in tobacco use”.

Speaking ahead of his Douglas Gordon Oration at the Preventive Health Conference on Kaurna Country on Thursday, Emeritus Professor Mike Daube AO said the Government’s announcement on tobacco and vaping “is the best news the public health community has had in years”. While welcoming the vaping reforms, the Alcohol and Drug Foundation said that it is important for adequate support to be in place for people who developed a nicotine dependence through vaping.

To view the Croakey Health Media article Crackdown on vaping and tobacco industries draws global acclaim in full click here.

vapes sitting on wooden table top

Image source: Bowman Dental.

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