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Wednesday 09 November 2016

Researcher: Vital HIV study "definitely off"

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News
By Daily News staff - 6th November 2016

Despite slim hopes that alternative funding could be found at short notice for the vital 2017 GAPSS and GOSS HIV study, used to monitor and direct HIV prevention work, no such funding has been found and the research will definitely not now take place.

In their early years the concurrent Gay Auckland Periodic Sex Survey and the Gay Online Sex Survey studies were carried out every two years but more recently the Ministry of Health funded it every three years and now has declined to fund it next year at all. Countries such as Australia and the UK carry out such studies every year to enable close monitoring of trends and changes underlying HIV transmission.

HIV prevention agencies in this country such as the NZ AIDS Foundation will soon be relying on data that is three to four years old as they seek to come to grips with a rapidly changing infection environment and a continuing upward surge in newly-diagnosed infections. Most HIV in New Zealand is contracted by men who have sex with men.

"We've not been able to identify alternative funding in time to conduct the study during the Auckland Pride Festival," says clearly disappointed lead public health researcher Dr Peter Saxton of the University of Auckland. "It's definitely off."

The NZAF maintains the yearly Big Gay Out, the biggest gay event in New Zealand, expressly for the purpose of attracting gay and bi men to the event where researchers can poll them.

"For a long time GAPSS and GOSS has been the key source of data for our decision-making and monitoring the effect of the messages we're putting out and decide who to put the messages out to. And it enables us to identify segments of the most at-risk people that we can then target," says new NZAF boss Jason Meyers. He says the lack of up to date GAPSS and GOSS information comes at a particularly difficult time when new strategies are having to be created and delivered to counter the changing epidemic. "We're increasingly having to fly blind," he says.

As to whether the study will be able to be picked up in 2018, Meyers will only say that he is "always hopeful... we're already extremely alarmed... it would be irresponsible of the Ministry to continue to expect us to deliver the quality of programmes they expect of us when it's not funding the collection of data that allows us to deliver a quality strategy."

Acting Director General of Public Health Dr Stewart Jessamine has said the Ministry has not ruled out future funding for GAPSS and GOSS but makes it clear there it currently has other priorities ahead of such funding.

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