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The Human Immunodeficiency Virus
How do we stop HIV this time?

in NEW ZEALAND, 10/03/2011

(Jay Bennie) - Which ever way you look at it a new and disastrous HIV epidemic is right now sweeping through NZ gay and bi men.

Last year 100 more men were diagnosed with HIV. Most were infected through having unprotected anal sex in this country. And many were infected recently.

In the past three years almost 300 more of our fellow gay and bi men have tested HIV positive. It's a worse annual rate of infection and diagnosis than the dark days of the late 1980s, when the shadows of fear and death stalked our every sexual encounter,

Back then, thanks to the actions of a few, and the support of many more, political and health action and a determination to deal to the virus before it destroyed us as a community, and as individuals, the rate was pushed way down. Laws were changed amidst huge and rancorous debate, organisations formed, groundbreaking research and prevention programmes mounted and by the late 1990s we had dipped to a mere twenty or so new HIV diagnoses a year.

Now that's history. Seriously.

The figures released last week leave no doubt that since 2001 a quiet but inexorable yearly increase in HIV infections and diagnoses has swelled into a tsunami-like surge that threatens to engulf us all. Unchecked, we could be facing 120 more HIV-blighted lives per year in five years' time. By which time almost 600 more of us will be surviving on handfuls of diarrhoea-inducing toxic pills and facing the long-term effects of life with HIV including heart problems, rotting teeth, facial disfigurement and AIDS Dementia.

Much of our national and community resource to deal with HIV is vested in the NZ AIDS Foundation, an organisation that for its first fifteen years of HIV prevention work seemingly could do no wrong. But in recent years board politics, staff upheavals, lack-lustre campaigns and an increasingly bureaucratic mindset have led some to wonder if the Foundation can now do anything right.

Enter Shaun Robinson, the straight health administrator chosen by the Foundation's gay board in mid-December to take the fight to the virus and to win.

Robinson's appointment as NZAF Executive Director is arguably the most important ever made in the 25 years we have faced the disaster of HIV. He has taken the helm as the perfect storm of changing socio-sexual conditions, burnout, discord, a reduced death rate, complacency and community fragmentation have left us surrounded by an HIV disaster the likes of which we can hardly imagine.

You can't often see it but this new HIV disaster is no less real for that, blighting the lives of 100 more gay and bi men every year. The battle against resurgent HIV is a battle we must win, and win quickly. The alternative is too grim to think about.

This Thursday GayNZ.com will publish the first part of a two-part feature based on an exclusive interview with Shaun Robinson in which he discusses our new HIV problem and the vital search for solutions.

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