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Waikato office closing as NZAF redirects resources

Wed 11 Nov 2009 In: New Zealand Daily News

The NZ AIDS Foundation's permanent presence in the Waikato is being scaled down towards eventual closure in February as the NZAF reapportions its resources towards Auckland and the internet. The NZAF's Hamilton facility continues to provide access to counseling and rapid HIV testing but its two core staff have already been made redundant. One ex-staffer who specialised in gay and bi men is continuing for the time being as a contractor. Services to the Waikato will in future be provided by "community engagement team" staff visiting from the NZAF's Auckland head office. "People affected by, and living with, HIV will continue to receive professional counseling and support in the Midland area," says NZAF executive director Rachael Le Mesurier. "The NZAF is looking at initiatives which might include working closely with HIV clinics run by clinicians and increasing the number of contract counsellors who can provide professional support and rapid testing for HIV and syphilis." REVIEWING RESOURCES The winding down of the Waikato office is a result of a re-assessment of the Foundation's resources and strategies carried out earlier this year. "In the 24 years of the HIV epidemic in Aotearoa New Zealand, the landscape the NZAF works in has changed. Homosexual Law Reform, the internet and the advent of antiretroviral therapies are a few of the significant events that have changed the environment that the NZAF first confronted in 1984," says Le Mesurier. "The NZAF completed a comprehensive review of our HIV prevention programme in 2009, the first for many years, in part because in 2008 New Zealand recorded the highest number of new HIV diagnoses ever, and with the continued rise in new diagnoses since 2002 it was both timely and necessary for this review to occur." The NZAF is concentrating resources more specifically on Auckland, which continues to show a disproportionately high proportion of newly diagnosed local HIV infections than the rest of the country. Over the past decade there have been more diagnoses of HIV among MSM in Auckland than in the rest of New Zealand combined, according to official AIDS Epidemiology Group figures. Changing social and communication trends have also impacted on the NZAF's planning. "The best research available in New Zealand has shown that as new media has emerged our target audiences have diversified – gay and bisexual men now read blogs and websites as well as newspapers, socialise on Facebook and Twitter as well as at parties, and perhaps most importantly for the HIV epidemic, meet each other on Facebook and online dating sites instead of in gay bars and personal columns," says Le Mesurier. "To effectively prevent the transmission of HIV the NZAF needs to be present on many of these forums, and the channels of communication need to be flexible and adapt faster than before to keep up with new and emerging technology. At a time when there are 31 billion searches on Google each month it is simply not practicable for the NZAF to stand still when the environment in which HIV is transmitted has changed; we are obliged to adapt with it."    

Credit: Daily News staff

First published: Wednesday, 11th November 2009 - 2:03am

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