An unexpected increase

In 2000, 198 new cases of HIV were diagnosed in Victoria. This was the highest annual number of HIV notifications since 1994, representing a 41 per cent increase over the total of 140 notifications the previous year.1 Confusingly, despite having the largest gay population in the country, New South Wales did not record an increase in HIV notifications, which had epidemiologists arguing about whether surveillance systems were producing accurate information.2 However, by 2003 HIV notification rates were also rising in New South Wales and Queensland and were continuing to increase in Victoria, growing to 286 new diagnoses in 2005. Of these, 72.4 per cent were reported among men engaging in sex with men.3

In response, Victoria’s Department of Human Services (DHS) made a substantial grant available to the VAC/GMHC’s Community Education Program to revitalise their prevention activities. Almost $330,000 was made available for the Melbourne Gay Community Periodic Survey and the VAC/GMHC portion of the department’s HIV Action Plan. This enabled the employment of two dedicated outreach workers to focus on HIV prevention in bars, beats and sex-on-premises venues across Melbourne.4 By 2004, the outreach project had conducted over 600 visits to these sites, providing information on sexual health to a broad range of homosexually active men. A series of safe sex videos were produced and distributed to sex-on-premises venues, covering issues such as assumptions of HIV status, HIV transmission risk in relationships and in beat environments and the particular risks associated with sex-on-premises venues.5 Volunteers became the primary workforce for the outreach project, trained to visit sex-on-premises venues and provide staff and patrons with information about safe sex and HIV transmission. For outreach volunteer Philip Searle, being involved in the program

… allows me to act as a resource for patrons at sex-on-premise venues who have questions regarding safe sex practice, STIs and HIV/AIDS … through volunteering I have a wonderful opportunity to share my knowledge. I also like to think that our presence serves as a reminder to the patrons to hold true to their values, as there may be times of vulnerability where one compromises their usual practice to satisfy others.6

Despite a tense relationship with government due to the ongoing funding issues, the establishment of three Ministerial Advisory Committees in 2000 by the new state Labor government, in areas related to the VAC/GMHC’s work, provided an opportunity for the organisation to participate in the development of a public policy response to the increasing complexity of the epidemic. The Ministerial Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS, Hepatitis C and Related Diseases (MACAHRD) developed the first Victorian HIV/AIDS Strategy (2002-2004), which outlined future directions and service priorities. It was launched by the Minister for Health, John Thwaites, at the Positive Living Centre on 31 July 2002. The VAC/GMHC played an important role in developing the strategy, which provided a strong base for moving forward in response to the epidemic.


References


Luke, Philip and Kim

In response to a rise in the number of HIV diagnoses in 2000, prevention activities were revitalised. Volunteers became the primary workforce for the outreach project, focussing on HIV prevention in bars, beats and sex-on-premises venues across Melbourne. VAC staff member Like Rogers with volunteers Philip Searle and Kim Miles.

AIDS Walk 2000

AIDS Walk 2000, launched by PLWHA Victoria President, John Daye and Health Minister, John Thwaites.

Living Positive Victoria