A petition to reverse federal funding cuts to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health programs in both Queensland and the Northern Territory has been delivered to the federal government.
The petition on Change.org was started last month by the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) and the Northern Territory AIDS and Hepatitis Council (NTAHC) in response to the Federal government’s decision to stop funding QuAC’s 2 Spirits Program and NTAHC’s Aboriginal Sexual Health Program after July 1.
It received over 3,100 signatures, and was delivered to Indigenous Health Minister Ken Wyatt on Wednesday.
The two groups said the funding has been utilised by NTAHC employee teams based in Darwin and Alice Springs and QuAC employees out of Brisbane and Cairns.
All have been working both regionally and remotely, assisting specific populations that often experience difficulties accessing mainstream health services.
Both programs have been active for over 21 years, and the groups said they’re the only community programs in Queensland and the Territory delivering specific and culturally safe sexual health promotion and education directly to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander LGBTIQ people, including gender diverse Sistergirls and Brotherboys.
“We are incredibly heartened by the widespread support we have received in the face of the proposed funding cuts,” said NTAHC Acting Executive Director Paul Dawson.
“The 2 Spirits and Aboriginal Sexual Health programs have made a real difference to Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander populations throughout QLD and NT for decades, and it would be devastating if they were to be shut down indefinitely.”
QuAC Executive Director Michael Scott added: “In light of this petition we look forward to a public response from Ken Wyatt, the Minister for Indigenous Health, and real further public engagement that doesn’t mean abandoning these LGBTI Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander sexual health programs.
“We are looking at real and immediate devastation in this specific LGBTI community.”
In a response to the cuts last month, a federal health department spokesperson said in a statement sexual and reproductive health is “primarily a state and territory responsibility.”
“The AIDS Council has been aware that since 2015 they would only get funding up to 30 June 2017, and was advised to make alternative arrangements,” the spokesperson said.
The Kirby Institute said in its Annual Surveillance Report last year that in 2015 HIV notifications among Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander men were more than double the rate in non‑Indigenous populations and had steadily increased in the past five years.
Rates of chlamydia, gonorrhoea and syphilis were also between three to 18 times higher among the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander community than the non-Indigenous population.