Professor Martin Holt & His Colleagues at the Centre for Social Research in Health & The Kirby Institute Have Played a Huge Role in Helping Prevent the Spread of HIV in Australia.
In collaboration with the gay community, Professor Holt and his colleagues have conducted the Gay Community Periodic Surveys (GCPS) annually or biannually with approximately 7,000 participants since 1996, to gather information about how gay and bisexual men protect themselves against HIV infection.
The information gathered is used to inform best practice HIV prevention and treatment methods. “The GCPS are unique in that they been conducted in close partnership with community organisations and government health departments for over 20 years. No other country has such a good overview,” Professor Holt explains.
Their impact cannot be overstated. The data underpins state and federal HIV policy and helps monitor progress against Australia’s National HIV Strategy. It also plays an important role in monitoring the uptake and impact of PrEP (pre-exposure prophylaxis), an antiretroviral drug that prevents HIV acquisition.
The Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO) has been a community partner of the GCPS since inception and uses survey results to direct their education strategies. Senior Advisor Research, Dr Jeanne Ellard, says UNSW has involved AFAO at every stage of the research: “Their approach means the research is accessible and relevant to the policy and health promotion work of the HIV community sector.”
ACON, Australia’s largest HIV and LGBTQ community organisation, says that working with the GCPS team has been pivotal in how they understand and direct their sexual health promotion work. Brent Mackie, Associate Director Policy, Strategy and Research says that survey results have allowed them to explore new and emerging issues, to raise concerns and test them against reliable and comprehensive data. “One of the key outcomes of the GCPS demonstrates in detail how PrEP is being used by the community, who is using it and which men we need to do more work with,” Mackie adds.
Critically, the GCPS has been used to de-stigmatise HIV and bring the topic to the forefront of discussions in the gay and wider community in Australia. It has been used to promote the importance of HIV testing and safe sex practices and has no doubt saved lives in the process.
Data released by UNSW’s Kirby Institute indicates that HIV diagnoses in 2018 were at their lowest level since 2001. The data also reports a 23 per cent national decline in cases over the past five years which is largely due to a 30 per cent reduction in HIV diagnoses amongst men who have sex with men.