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The Budget: a community response
Among the health commitments contained in the 2018 federal budget is a $180 million pledge to fund PrEP access. The rollout of PrEP has so far led to markedly reduced rates of HIV and it is expected that greater access will drive an even sharper reduction in HIV transmission. “It is extremely reassuring to see the government commit to funding this critically important medicine,” said chief executive of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), Darryl O’Donnell in response to the announcement.
O’Donnell also welcomed a $338 million funding boost to the mental health sector. “Mental distress associated with sexuality, sexual health and the stigma surrounding HIV can be acute. Every extra dollar spent supporting people experiencing mental distress is a dollar well spent,” said O’Donnell. “Making progress on HIV will require that we are also making progress on intersecting health issues including mental health and alcohol and other drug use.”
And, while applauding the budget’s commitment to expand Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander health organisations, O’Donnell said what was also needed was “dedicated and substantially increased investments to respond to BBVs and STIs in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities”.
Responding to the $40 million earmarked for drug treatment services, CEO of the Australian Injecting and Illicit Drug Users League (AVIL), Melanie Walker, said further investment was needed. “There’s a full suite of evidence-based interventions in the alcohol and other drug (AOD) sector but services are currently under-resourced and struggling to keep up with demand,” said Walker. “This budget will go some way towards addressing unmet need but there’s a long way to go if we are to meet the needs of those individuals, families and communities struggling to address AOD problems.”
The $1.6 billion budget commitment to aged care has also been criticised for falling short. “Our members are pleased the government has allocated funding into additional home-care packages and palliative care services,” said Annie Butler, federal secretary of the Australian Nursing and Midwifery Federation, “but this will do nothing to ensure safe and timely care for elderly Australians already in residential care, and those who will need it soon, because the government has done nothing to ensure that aged-care providers are employing enough nurses and carers.”
Meanwhile, the government’s confirmation to fully fund the National Disability Insurance Scheme (NDIS) has been widely praised. “This scheme is too important to hundreds of thousands of Australians not to be fully funded — and it’s clear the government agrees,” said Dr Ken Baker, chief executive of National Disability Services. “The NDIS has the potential to be a world-leading system. The disability sector is ready to work with government to get it right.”