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Australia reinforces its commitment in fight against AIDS

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Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service (CNS)

Australia has taken a lead in supporting public health in India over the years. With XX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) being held in Melbourne, Citizen News Service (CNS) interviewed Bernard Philip, Deputy High Commissioner of Australia to India. "The conference is providing an opportunity to showcase Australia's leadership in the global HIV response, particularly in Asia and the Pacific. Over the past decade, Australia has provided over AUD 1 billion to support HIV-specific programmes in developing countries, and responding to HIV remains a priority for the Australian government," said Philip.

He added, "Going forward, we will advocate for effective, equitable and sustainable HIV responses, including regional and global forums such as the XX International AIDS Conference (AIDS 2014) in Melbourne. We will continue to invest strategically in HIV with a focus on the Indo-Pacific region, including through: our bilateral HIV programs in Indonesia and Papua New Guinea; our investments to improve primary health care in Asia and the Pacific; and our contributions to global organisations such as the Global Fund to Fight AIDS Tuberculosis and Malaria (The Global Fund), UNAIDS and the World Health Organization."

Australia recognises the Indian government has also shown leadership in the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly through the Forum of Parliamentarians and the Legislative Forum on AIDS. It has worked very closely with UNAIDS and the broader UN system to scale-up its response to HIV especially in the northeastern Indian states, and to develop effective strategies to prevent the spread of HIV within India.

"The Australian government has played a modest but important role in this effort by contributing around AUD 10 million for northeastern activities since 2007. Australia is proud to have contributed to successful initiatives to address HIV in this region," said Bernard Philip.

Australia has also supported TB-control programs in many countries including India. "Australia is committed to working with governments in our region to strengthen health systems to deliver better health services through training health workers, quality medicine procurement, functioning health facilities and information systems, and policy and planning. Our aim is to strengthen capacity to tackle all diseases, including HIV and TB. The Australian government promotes proven, cost-effective interventions to reduce the burden of TB, including by improving primary health care, promoting an effective public-health approach to TB management, and by boosting TB detection. Drug-resistant TB and TB-HIV co-infection are difficult and complex problems, and we need improved surveillance, detection, diagnosis and treatment in order to fight them effectively," said Philip.

In India, the Australian government has also supported vital research into TB through the Australia India Strategic Research Fund (AISRF). For example, the AISRF has put more than AUD 2.3 million into a joint project between the Commonwealth Scientific and Industrial Research Organization (CSIRO), in Australia, and the Council of Scientific and Industrial Research, in India, to investigate point-of-care diagnostic tools for TB. This is a symbol of the Australian government's strong commitment to funding research which can aid global efforts to tackle this disease.

This is the first time ever in history of AIDS conferences that aboriginals (indigenous communities) have been included as key populations (not only key to HIV epidemic in terms of incidence or risk, but also key to HIV programming). In this regard Bernard Philip said to CNS: "The Fourth National Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander Blood-Borne Virus and Sexually Transmissible Infections Strategy 2014-17 addresses the impacts of this disease on Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people. This strategy considers the unique health needs of this population and acknowledges that for improvements in health to be realised, it is vital that communities and individuals have the ability and freedom to be empowered and translate their capacity, knowledge, skills and understanding into action. This requires an integrated approach which encompasses: strengthening communities; reinforcing positive behaviours; improving education participation, regional economic development, housing and environmental health; and spiritual healing."

The Seventh National HIV Strategy 2014-17 recognises aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander people as a priority population, due to geographical, cultural and social circumstances. Issues requiring consideration to address this include access to culturally appropriate services, including primary healthcare services for many communities; language and cultural issues, including family and community relationships; and the impact of systematic discrimination.

The Australian Department of Health advocated for the inclusion of the Indigenous Plenary Session on the AIDS 2014 Programme, the first of its kind at an International AIDS Conference. In addition, the Department is the primary sponsor of the 2014 International Indigenous pre-conference on HIV and AIDS, including funding for the individual funding of scholarships for community elders, Indigenous people living with HIV and other Indigenous delegates, informed Philip.

Bobby Ramakant, Citizen News Service -- CNS

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