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Saturday 08 April 2017

Min. of Health rejects HIV study funding claims

Posted in: New Zealand Daily News, Health & HIV
By Daily News staff - 19th October 2016

Dr. Stewart Jessamine
The Ministry of health has rejected suggestions by sources inside the health sector that denial of funding for the next round of surveys into the sexual behaviours of men at risk of contracting HIV is a flow-on effect from its head office refurbishment cost blow-out and recent loss of senior staff.

The ministry has advised Auckland University researchers that it will not be funding the 2017 round of the GAPS and GOSS studies, the main behavioural change monitoring tool used for HIV prevention  programmes. The most recent available information from the periodic studies is almost three years old. The resurgent HIV epidemic amongst gay and bi men has seen the annual numbers of new HIV diagnoses increase year by year, the diagnosis rate is currently the highest ever in the history of the thirty-year epidemic and appears likely to continue trending upwards.

"The claim that the cause of the funding change is due to accommodation costs is wrong," says a ministry spokesperson, "and the claim that it is also due to Ministry staffing changes is also wrong."

"Each year, as taxpayers would expect, funding decisions are reviewed and priorities identified and funding modified accordingly. That is what happened in this case. This will also be true of future funding decisions and it is possible that the Ministry may fund the survey, or a similar project, at some point in the future."

The spokesperson says the Ministry's operational funding and funding of health projects are entirely separate.

In a separate statement provided to Daily News and echoing a letter sent to the researchers in September, the Acting Director of Public Health, Dr. Stewart Jessamine, says
the decision not to fund the 2017 round of the GAPS and GOSS studies "is not a reflection on the quality, merits or value of the work done."

"We acknowledge their important role in identifying attitudes and risk behaviours," he says. "We have not ruled out future support, however prioritisation of the current work programme means that we are unable to provide funding this year."

He says the Ministry "considers and prioritises surveillance projects on an annual basis and the projects funded in any given year depend on available budget and the work programme for the year. "

And he says examples of "high priority work areas in the current programme include development and implementation of the Antimicrobial Resistance Action Plan and Pandemic Influenza Preparedness."

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