In the second part of her last interview with express’ Oliver Hall, Prime Minister Jacinda Ardern responds to questions about Labour’s Rainbow Policies, gender reassignment surgeries in NZ and the increasing HIV infection rates.
What does the implementation of Labour’s Rainbow policies look like and what is the timeline for achieving these goals?
This Government is committed to improving the lives of Rainbow New Zealanders.
I stand by Labour’s policies. We are progressing conversations on delivering on them with our coalition partner New Zealand First and the Green Party.
I’m personally really proud of Labour’s Rainbow agenda which has been developed and driven by the community.
We know Rainbow policy does not stand alone. It is essential Rainbow New Zealanders are included in every part of the decisions Government makes. That’s particularly true of health, housing and education.
In terms of an update, there is much work to be done. But in our first 100 Days we have made significant progress.
There is also the problem that there aren’t any local surgeons to carry out gender reassignment – New Zealand’s last transgender specialist surgeon retired in 2014 – and the Ministry of Health has been unable to find a replacement. How will the Government address this issue?
The Government is aware there hasn’t been a New Zealand-based surgeon since 2014. Right now we’re working with key players on progress for the transgender community here. We might be able to develop better options for surgery, closer to home. Watch this space.
The use of PrEP is an adjustment from the condom culture mindset previously promoted by the NZAF with campaigns like Love Your Condom. How do we support PrEP use while avoiding the spread of other STDs
PrEP builds on the work of NZAF, like the Love Your Condom campaign. The best approach is a comprehensive one, with continued condom promotion and social marketing.
Now that PrEP is being funded for at risk New Zealanders, we have another important tool to help us in the fight against HIV transmissions.
This goes alongside continuing to build the condom culture with regular testing, early diagnosis and treatment, to support their ongoing wellbeing. We know from overseas studies that use of PrEP can manage the spread of other STIs because of the regular testing and monitoring that is part of being on the drug. It’s important that we’re open about this, encourage conversations in our community and take control of our healthcare. As they say, always know your status.
What is causing the increased HIV infection rates in New Zealand and what can be done to improve this?
We’re monitoring the increase in HIV infection rates and we know the causes are complex.
We remain committed to preventing HIV transmission by 2025 by increasing sexual health services and funding PrEP.
Recently there have been some big milestones in the fight against HIV. The first is the scientific evidence that people who are living with HIV and have been successfully treated cannot pass HIV on to their partners.
UNAIDS and the WHO, along with the Centre for Disease Control in the US are now supporting the notion that U=U or ‘undetectable equals untransmittable.’ This should reduce stigma against people with HIV and is an acknowledgement that we can end HIV transmissions through treatment.
The second is the funding of PrEP. PrEP will be available from 1 March 2018 to around 4000 people who are at risk of contracting HIV. As part of the treatment, patients access regular testing, primary healthcare and gender affirming services, through Rainbow-inclusive providers. It’s a huge tool to end transmissions, alongside the condom culture that NZAF has been promoting. People who want to protect themselves but do not qualify for PHARMAC funded PrEP are still able to be prescribed the unfunded drug.
Over $4 million of government funding goes on HIV infection prevention, whereas roughly a tenth of that goes to funding oranisations that care for HIV positive people. Is this a fair balance?
Prevention of HIV and caring for people who are HIV positive are very important aspects of responding to HIV. There are important reasons for both. As part of the comprehensive approach, and with the increased availability of PrEP, we are upping our focus on prevention which is key to bringing down infection rates.