Prime Minister Chris Hipkins has unveiled an action plan to eliminate the transmission of HIV and deaths from Aids in New Zealand by 2030.
Hipkins made the announcement today during his first visit to the Big Gay Out celebration of the rainbow community held annually in Auckland.
He also paid tribute to the late Georgina Beyer, the world’s first openly transgender member of Parliament and mayor, who died this week aged 65.
This year is the first time the celebration has been held since 2021, after it was cancelled due to Covid-19 last year. This year it was postponed by a month due to flooding in Auckland.
Political leaders regularly attend the festival, where the rainbow community has the opportunity to press them on particular issues.
Ending HIV in the country had long been a goal of organisers of the festival, with its disproportionate impact on gay and bisexual men, and last year the Government started consultation on a plan to realise it. The final version was published today.
The Government has also committed $18 million from last year’s Budget to the first steps in the plan.
“I’m really proud to be launching today the HIV action plan designed to eliminate transmission of HIV in New Zealand and also eliminate the stigma associated with HIV in New Zealand,” said Hipkins.
It was his first time at Big Gay Out, said Hipkins, adding he wished he’d come sooner.
“It is such a great opportunity for the community to come together to celebrate diversity, to celebrate people being who they are, to be comfortable in their own skin.”
On Beyer, Hipkins said he saw her work in action “standing up to prejudice”.
“Standing up for the rainbow community, and she will definitely be missed. She has made a lasting difference to New Zealand.”
Hipkins was asked about the rights of temporary migrants in Aotearoa to access sexual healthcare. He said the Government was aware of the issue and work was “under way” to address it.
National Party leader Christopher Luxon also attended the Auckland event for his first time in his role, and leaders of other political parties and MPs were also present.
Luxon said it was “fabulous” to be there and that his party fully supported the ending HIV action plan.
HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is not treated, it can lead to Aids (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome). There is still no cure, but HIV can be controlled effectively if detected early.
The disease has killed 757 people in New Zealand since the first cases were identified in 1984.
However, infection rates have been declining steadily since a peak in 2016, with 2021 recording the fewest cases since 2001 (112). One person died from Aids in 2021.
Between 1985 and 2021, 5475 people were notified as having HIV in New Zealand. The majority (57.7 per cent) were among gay, bisexual, and other men who have sex with men, followed by those thought to have acquired HIV through heterosexual contacts (24.6 per cent).
About 15 per cent of infections were among women.
Due to its high prevalence in the gay male community, there has been much stigma attached to the disease, which has in turn stopped some people from seeking and/or even receiving adequate treatment.
In launching the plan, Health Minister Dr Ayesha Verrall, herself an infectious diseases physician, said she had seen that stigma at play first-hand.
“I have had patients who couldn’t engage in care and felt unable to accept their diagnoses primarily because of the stigma that surrounds HIV.”
She said due to advances in prevention and treatment HIV was a manageable chronic condition rather than an acute fatal disease.
“It is now time to mobilise around another ambitious goal: to see local HIV transmission eliminated and people living with HIV leading healthy lives free from stigma and discrimination.”
Former prime minister Jacinda Ardern was a regular attendee, as were previous prime ministers and political leaders.
Ardern’s presence was particularly celebrated, especially after the 2020 Election when New Zealand voted in the most-rainbow Parliament in the world.
Last year the Government released a plan for consultation to eliminate the transmission of HIV in New Zealand by 2032. The final plan was unveiled today.
During a press conference, Hipkins was also questioned over the Government’s ongoing response to the devastation caused by cyclones this year, after today revealing this year’s Budget would be increased to accommodate additional spending.
Hipkins also faced questions over the Government’s approach to crime.
Today, National Party police spokesman Mark Mitchell released figures showing retail crime had increased by 39 per cent in the past year.
There were 292 retail crime incidents every day in 2022, up from 140 per day in 2018.
Hipkins said there had been an escalation in such incidents over the past year but a lot of work recently had gone into preventative measures, including directly with retail operators and youth offenders themselves.
“I know the police have been really proactively targeting this area of crime. No one wants to see businesses experience the level of victimisation that they have in recent times.”
Hipkins was also pushed on his climate change record, after recently introducing policies such as the fuel tax subsidy that will increase the country’s greenhouse gas emissions at the same time as cyclones cause unprecedented devastation.
He said the emissions reduction goals had not changed and that these policies were targeted at assisting lowest-income New Zealanders.