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Tuesday 11 April 2017

AIDS 2014: Listening, learning and advising

Posted in: Health & HIV, Features
By Jay Bennie - 19th July 2014

While the deaths of as many as one hundred HIV researchers and clinicians en route to the World AIDS Conference has cast a dark shadow over the event its organisers say the conference will continue and amongst those assembled in Melbourne is a twelve-strong team from the NZ AIDS Foundation.

NZAF boss Shaun Robinson says Melbourne's proximity to New Zealand means this is the best chance the Foundation has ever had for a number of its staff from varying specialties to attend the biannual gathering of the world's experts and those dealing with the consequences of HIV infection. Most of those with HIV in New Zealand are gay and bisexual men.

"There are actually three conferences in one and we will be at each of them," says Robinson, referring to the indigenous people's pre-conference gathering, a similar event for men who have sex with men and the World AIDS Conference itself, which formally kicks off tomorrow afternoon.

"We'll be making four presentations, be involved in several exhibitions and have a stand in the Global Village associated with the Conference... and we'll be at as many relevant sessions as we can manage... it's a good opportunity to learn and to listen."

NZAF Executive Director Shaun Robinson
For a cash-strapped organisation struggling to do its work without any increase in funding to allow for rising costs, attending this event is a major financial outlay. "Most of it has come out of our training budget," Robinson says,"and because of that there won't be much training happening for the rest of this year. He says the Trust Board of the NZAF agreed to squeezing a little more out of the organisation's coffers to take advantage of the proximity of the conference.

The NZAF will be taking its experience that creating a condom culture can be done and that it works in holding back the HIV epidemic. This is not a primary prevention strategy that is being used with any success by many nations, whether their main epidemic is within gay and bisexual populations or not.

"New Zealand's approach has always been based on condom promotion and we also have a long history of promoting testing and advocating for access to treatment," Robinson says. "We want to bring down the number of men who are still unaware they have HIV so we'll be looking at what we can do to push out testing further... perhaps getting HIV testing included as part of men's normal health regime."

Robinson says the NZAF is also wanting to keep in touch with latest research and strategies around what is the best stage of HIV infection at which to start people on drug treatments.

"We have done many things right in this country in controlling HIV and AIDS and it is important for us to show the world what works," Robinson says. "We need to influence other peoples' thinking. On average every year nearly 30 New Zealand men contract HIV overseas... we need to play our part in the global discussion."

To this end NZAF presenters are today offering up their experience of using information and communications technology and also broader perspectives on their HIV prevention strategies, highlighting "how we have built and sustained our condom culture" amongst New Zealand men who have sex with men.

Jay Bennie - 19th July 2014

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