Tuesday 13 November 2012

Advocacy Corner at the ASHM Conference

Ryan Snaith from Kenya Aid
An Advocacy Corner in the Exhibition Hall was a new addition to ASHM's (Australasian Society for HIV Medicine) HIV/AIDS Conference in Melbourne this year.

The corner, organised by AFAO, created a space to discuss the work and issues of the HIV community sector, both here in Australia and internationally. There were several great discussions held throughout the week, two of which I was lucky enough to attend as host.

At morning tea on the Wednesday Ryan Snaith from Kenya Aid gave an overview of the HIV epidemic in Kenya, discussing issues such as lack of basic access to HIV treatments, as well as an outline of the work of Kenya Aid. This was followed by discussion with a number of questions from the audience. 

Christian Vega and Janelle Fawkes from Scarlet Alliance
Lunchtime on Wednesday was a very well attended session by Scarlet Alliance, the Australian Sex Workers Association, on mandatory HIV testing. The discussion was led by Janelle Fawkes and Christian Vega, who outlined the evidence surrounding why mandatory testing doesn't work and also gave a personal perspective of the impact on sex workers.

There were discussions about how mandatory testing is implemented in some Australian jurisdictions but not in others, and about the welcome recent change in Victoria from monthly to three monthly testing. There was also a lot of discussion about how mandatory testing not only negatively impacts sex workers, but how it also places unnecessary burden on the health system with the costs and capacity constraints unnecessary testing creates.

Elena Jeffreys also gave several examples of how mandatory testing has had significant negative impacts overseas. This again led to several questions from the audience and further discussion about these issues.

James Gray from ACON.
Lunchtime on Friday was another well-attended session, this time led by James Gray from ACON. Issues of identity, HIV, STIs and what these mean to young gay men today were explored in an interactive discussion.

This discussion was particularly pertinent in light of the increase in diagnoses in the 20-29 year age group reported in the latest Annual Surveillance Report, which was released at the conference; a third of new diagnoses of men with HIV are in the under 30s. James said this increase should not be cause for a panic, knee-jerk reaction, but it still highlights a need for a change in our prevention strategies.

James suggested that young gay men are not all hearing HIV prevention messages and some young men don't identify with traditional labels such as 'gay', which can present challenges to health promotion.

James pointed out that there hasn't been a primary focus on young gay men in the HIV response over the last twenty years and posed the question: is part of the problem that people in positions of influence in the response haven't adapted to the new cultures and attitudes of young people?

Advocacy corner 2013?

When I spoke to some of the participants and presenters, they all had positive things to say about the space and the discussions and were looking forward to seeing another advocacy corner at the conference next year.

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