Plan to boost sexual health services

Plan to address STIs, boost sexual health services in Canberra: ACT government. The ACT will boost access to sexual health services and focus on new programs and clinical trials aimed at stopping and reducing the spread of HIV, hepatitis B and C and sexually transmissible infections.

 The government will on Thursday release a plan to address hepatitis B and C, HIV and STI cases in the ACT in a local response to national strategies for reducing infection rates and the stigma of blood-borne viruses.

"While prevention remains the cornerstone of all responses to hepatitis B, hepatitis C, HIV and sexually transmissible infections in the ACT, the ACT Statement of Priorities also supports an increased focus on new and emerging testing and treatment regimes which will present us with opportunities to significantly improve health outcomes for some conditions in coming years," the plan said.

Assistant health minister Meegan Fitzharris said the ACT's priorities for the next four years would focus on six key areas: prevention, testing, research as well as management, care and support.

"Our 2016-20 targets focus on reduced transmission, infection and morbidity rate of hepatitis B, C, HIV and STIs and actively engaging with affected and at-risk communities to minimise the associated personal and social impacts," she said.

"The ACT will also focus on new and innovative programs and clinical trials designed to reduce the prevalence of transmission of these diseases."

AIDS Action Council ACT executive director Philippa Moss welcomed the ACT Statement of Priorities.

"We work with the community so this document will certainly help us focus our work with the community," she said.

"We welcome the government increasing sexual health services to the community and as a community-based organisation, we would like to see a focus on community-based, peer-based services."

The plan outlines several targets such as reducing infection rates for STIs, improving treatment and testing rates as well as boosting vaccination rates for hepatitis B, a vaccine-preventable disease, and human papillomavirus (HPV) adolescent vaccination.

The ACT is also set to take part in a University of NSW trial, which offers a therapy designed to prevent HIV infection in high-risk populations. It is understood the ACT has 200 places in the pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) trial.

Ms Moss was excited by the ACT's participation in the trial.

"We absolutely welcome it, we know the community want it, we have people in our offices every day of the week asking how they can access it and the fact that a trial is going to be available in the ACT is brilliant," she said.

Cases of HIV in Canberra have risen in recent years, with notifications surging 41 per cent in just one year, the ACT Chief Health Officer's report 2016 recently revealed.

Ms Moss believed increased testing had to be taken into account when looking at the rise in HIV statistics.

"We have been pushing the testing agenda so more people testing is a good thing," she said.

Ms Moss said peer-based community services were important in tackling the stigma and discrimination that people living with HIV still faced.  

"We have peers delivering services to other peers and the value in that in reducing stigma and discrimination and increasing knowledge is important," she said 

The government allocated $1.3 million over four years in the 2016-17 ACT budget to improve access to sexual health services and vaccination, testing and treatment services under a  $2.7 million-plus commitment to sexual health services.

Ms Fitzharris was confident the government could meet the targets in the plan and see reductions in infection rates.

"We certainly want to make sure that we both bring the rates of infection down across the population as a whole, but also help those people that have contracted the disease, to manage them better."

She said the government worked closely with community agencies to develop the ACT Statement of Priorities.

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