HIV infections aren’t going up, they’re going down

The annual HIV surveillance figures are out today and, as usual, there is lots of reporting of apparently bad figures. “Australians newly diagnosed with HIV totalled 1050 during 2009, the highest number in almost two decades,” according to this AAP story.

Indeed, there was a rise in HIV diagnoses last year, and we’ve crossed the seemingly symbolic 1000-cases barrier, and that is of course significant cause for concern. But HIV diagnoses have been up around the 1000 mark for several years now, and deaths from AIDS are at an all-time low – just nine people were reported to have died from AIDS-related causes in 2009, a piece of good news that the media has pretty much ignored. Because of this, the number of people living with HIV in Australia has risen every year, and so the number of new HIV diagnoses should be read in that context.

The chart below shows what happens when you do. The blue and green lines show the number of HIV diagnoses per year since 2000, and the consequent raw incidence rate per 100,000 population. The pink line shows the raw incidence rate per 100 people living with HIV, and shows a clear downward trend since 2005, as HIV infections have not risen in proportion to the number of positive people living in Australia. (Click the image to see a larger version).

hiv-2010.png

To my mind, this is a significant piece of good news that the media has ignored. But that’s not surprising as NCHECR’s annual surveillance report doesn’t include this measure, making a ‘bad news’ interpretation of the data almost inevitable.

That falling pink line suggests that positive people are succeeding in preventing onward HIV transmission. With a larger HIV-positive population, you’d naturally expect more HIV transmission to occur, yet this isn’t happening.

If this falling incidence rate were acknowledged, we could begin to ask why it is so. What has changed since 2005 to reduce HIV incidence, and how can we extend that success? Reported rates of unprotected sex among gay men have risen during that period, so how do we explain this apparently contradictory effect? These are important, and potentially valuable, questions.

HIV incidence is falling, not rising, when you take into account the growing positive population. This is something we should be celebrating, and for which positive people should be congratulated, instead of focusing on raw numbers that give a skewed perception of the epidemiology of HIV in Australia.

There are several caveats to the data I used for the chart. Most of the data came from the published NCHECR surveillance reports, which can be found here and from ABS population data. The 2010 report isn’t up yet, so I have taken the figures for 2009 from today’s media reports. And as I say, I’m no statistician, so I will accept criticism of my methods with my usual sanguine humour.

Tagged , , , ,

FCKH8

I love this sassy (but NSFW – lots of F-bombs) promo for FCKH8, a fundraising initiative supporting the campaign against California’s Proposition 8 anti gay marriage bill.

More info about the campaign.

Tagged , , ,

HIV/AIDS: A new first impression

Myles Helfand, editor of TheBody.com, writing in the Huffington Post on HIV stigma:

Never mind that more than half of all people in the U.S. who get HIV/AIDS are heterosexual, and that most people who get it are not injection-drug users. Or that it whittles away the immune system in the same manner regardless of a person’s sex, gender, race, age, education level, wealth, geographic location or the manner in which they’re infected.

It’s the first impression that matters. And that first impression was that HIV/AIDS was something sinners got for doing things they shouldn’t: Having sex with men. Using drugs. Acts of which God does not approve, as has been made clear by luminaries such as Pope Benedict XVI and Delaware’s masturbation-averse Republican Senate nominee Christine O’Donnell.

Read the full article.

Tagged ,

Some days are diamonds

happyday.jpg

Just to recap the news from the last couple of days:

CC-licensed image above: The Happiest Days of our Lives… in Kenosha, by Flickr user angiek47.

Australian politics through Taiwanese eyes

This has been doing the rounds, but it’s just too wonderful not to share. Taiwanese animated news report on the Australian election, complete with political assassination scene, precognitive crocodile and a messianic, refugee-slaughtering Tony Abbott.

http://www.youtube.com/v/RQ_s6V1Kv6A

Tagged ,

Hung parliament

hung-parliament.jpg

Australia is headed for a hung parliament after the most appalling election campaign in history culminated in the most perverted election result in history.

A first-term government that has delivered low inflation, low unemployment and massive infrastructure investment while deftly managing the greatest economic crisis of recent years has been rejected at the polls, and an opposition composed of a ragged band of right-wing reactionaries, Christian fundamentalists and a peppering of downright loonies has come within a hair’s breadth of winning government. It takes a very special brand of stupid for a political party to squander opportunity the way the Labor Party have done over the last 12 months.

As it stands, the ABC election computer suggests that Labor have won 70 seats, the Coalition 72 seats, and the Greens 1 seat in the new parliament. There are four independents – including Andrew Wilkie, a former whistleblower who previously stood for election in Bennelong (2004) and for the Tasmania Senate (2007) as a Green. That leaves three seats in doubt – Brisbane (Coalition ahead), Corangamite (ALP), and Lindsay (ALP). Many seats have be won with very slim margins, which means they could slip from one column to the other over the next week, but the upshot is that no party is going to have the numbers to govern in its own right.

How could this happen? Twelve months ago, Labor was riding high – they’d dodged the global financial crisis, apologised to the Stolen Generations, and were gradually rolling out positive policy reforms in health, education, welfare and a whole lot more. They had a leader in Kevin Rudd who was enjoying near-stratospheric approval ratings, and an opposition that was tearing itself apart over climate change and mired in scandal following the Godwin Grech affair. When Tony Abbott became leader on 1 December last year, the event was dismissed by most people as the latest in a long series of missteps by a futile and disunited opposition. That was just eight and a half months ago.

The decision to depose Kevin Rudd in a party-room coup, engineered (or so the media narrative tells us) by “faceless faction leaders” using an ambitious woman – Julia Gillard – as their puppet, will go down as one of the ALP’s greatest tactical errors, but it also shows how deeply lost the ALP has become. A party made up of career politicians and factional warlords, where only the grittiest and most ambitious can rise to the leadership, where policies and ideals take a second place behind a cynical pitch for votes that has only one aim: keeping yourself in power at any cost. Yes, it’s true of both parties and both leaders, as I wrote yesterday, but in Labor this form of cynical antipolitics has reached its apotheosis.

There is an old saying that oppositions don’t win elections; governments lose them. This is an election that the government emphatically lost, but the opposition did not win. The only winners are the Greens, who have attracted droves of disaffected Labor voters and who have run a principled campaign backed by a comprehensive policy platform. As well as winning a lower-house seat for the first time in a general election, the Greens will likely have nine senators from 1 July next year, and I expect will have a close working relationship with Wilkie. That’s a huge win for the Greens and an impressive vote for change.

Of course, it’s easy to have a great policy platform when you don’t have the nuisance of having to implement it. Now the Greens will hold real political power for the first time, possibly in support of a minority Labor government, and certainly holding the balance of power in the Senate (but not until 1 July). The way they exercise that power will be keenly watched, and will test the party. The downfall of the Australian Democrats was ultimately in how they exercised power when they had it, and the Greens will need to find a balance between idealism and pragmatism if they are to succeed.

As for the Labor Party, the recriminations over today’s failure are already starting. The Greens will be blamed, for taking votes and seats away from Labor, even though most of those votes were returned through the preference system, and the two seats lost due to Greens influence, Melbourne and Denison, will back Labor ahead of the Coalition in parliament. The media will be blamed, and rightly so, for its failure to look beyond the intra-party squabbles and personalty issues and its abysmal failure of policy analysis. Kevin Rudd will be blamed, for his (assumed) rearguard spoiler action against Gillard. Mark Latham will be blamed. Queensland and NSW state Labor will be blamed.

But will anyone take the blame within the Labor Party machine that orchestrated this catastrophe? I doubt it.

You have to blame someone, and you can’t blame yourself – that would require a level of humility and introspection that is beyond the ALP.

UPDATE, 1PM: Karl Bitar and Bill Shorten have both been on TV this morning arguing that it was the cabinet leaks in the early days of the campaign that led to the loss. Not their decision to dump Kevin Rudd, not their decision to go to an election too early with no narrative and no coherent message, not the appalling way they conducted the campaign. No, it’s somebody else’s fault.

With ‘strategists’ like Bitar and Shorten, the ALP is doomed.

Tagged , , , , , , ,

I don’t care who wins, as long as Tony Abbott loses

Tony and Julia

It’s polling day today. This great ritual of democracy ought to inspire and excite us, but like a lot of Australians, this time round I’m more depressed than inspired, and more angry than excited.

Over the last five weeks we have lived through the most negative, cynical and dispiriting election campaign in memory. Virtually devoid of policy debate, unrelentingly negative from the get-go, a squalid race for the bottom that reflects the parlous state of politics in Australia. If, as they say, you get the politicians you deserve, then we must have done something very bad to deserve this lot.

Like most people in Australia, this election is not about me. Whether you’re an inner-city progressive, a Toorak Tory, a socially regressive cow cocky or a middle-aged queer tree-changer like me, neither of the big parties give a damn about you. This election is only about a handful of ignorant bigots in a few marginal seats in western Sydney and south-east Queensland. The rest of us don’t matter.

The result is a political auction to see who can be toughest on the most vulnerable and helpless people in society. The resulting campaign has degenerated into a five-week harangue attacking refugees, immigrants, welfare recipients, and anyone else who doesn’t fit the economically aspirational but socially insular template of the so-called ‘Howard battlers’ who now virtually run the country. Then there’s the rivers of middle-class welfare, the pandering to special interests, the bare-faced lies, and the sheer, mind-numbing, putrid, soul destroying emptiness of it all.

What should be a debate about the country’s future is instead presented as a choice between two individuals, one a self-flagellating Christian fundamentalist and the other an ambitious and calculating woman. Tony or Julia, who are you going to vote for? But both these stories are false: Abbott and Gillard are both career politicians, equally ambitious and both motivated by one thing only — gaining and holding power at any cost. Whatever it takes, as Richo said.

In our hearts we want our politicians to be motivated by a desire to build a better world, to protect and strengthen us, and build a united, resilient society. We want them to make us better people. Instead the political process has become a contest of personal ambition, played out by a small group of pathologically self-interested career politicians and perverted by the media into a presidential-style contest where the he-said, she-said narrative trumps any discussion or analysis of policy. Instead of debate, we get arguments about debates, breathlessly reported by a press pack who have unwittingly become players in the game.

The opinion polls published over the last few days have both major parties neck and neck, locked in at roughly 50% each of the two-party preferred vote, as if the electorate can’t make up its mind who it hates the most. A pox on both their houses.

I sincerely hope that Tony Abbott does not become our 28th prime minister today. I know that would be a disaster for Australia, or at least for the Australia I believe in. But I cannot say I feel any affection for Julia Gillard either. Like just about everyone I know, I’ll be voting for the Greens, who look likely to substantially increase their numbers in the senate, and maybe score a seat in the lower house for the first time at a general election.

But the Greens will not be the government — either Labor or the Coalition will, and neither deserves to be.

Tagged , , ,

Bedknobs and Backrooms

not-a-brothel-500.jpg

My friend Craig has a new blog, ‘Bedknobs and Backrooms’, through which he promises to progressively reveal a memoir of his life. Craig spent 16 years in Sydney as a dance party promoter, leather identity, and lad-about-town, so I expect there’ll be some juicy revelations coming.

Craig and I were fellow travellers through the Sydney inner-city queer scene through the 1980s and 1990s, a time when a community that was being savaged by AIDS rebelled and celebrated life through dance parties, art events and community organising. That period represents a significant part of our shared history and it’s not one that has been well recorded. Craig’s role as a participant and player in the scene should give him a unique insight. I know he has a powerful personal story to tell too.

Just one post so far but it’s evocatively and written and bodes well. Check it out.

Equal love

equallove.jpg

Today marks the sixth anniversary of the passage of the Marriage Amendment Bill 2004, the legislation that enshrined in Australian law the definition of marriage as being between “one man and one woman.” Australia’s DOMA.

The anniversary will be marked by rallies in all the capital cities and a number of regional centres (details), and it’s heartening to see support for equal marriage rights growing in Australia day by day.

Six years ago, when the Howard government introduced, and the Latham opposition immediately supported, this legislation, Brent and I were planning our own wedding, which took place in Canada later that year. I wrote a cranky blog post and very cranky letter to the editor at the time.

Brent and I were the first gay couple we knew to tie the knot. In those days, gay marriage was legal in The Netherlands, Belgium, and a handful of Canadian Provinces. Since then Argentina, the rest of Canada, Iceland, Mexico, Norway, Portugal, South Africa, Spain, Sweden and five US States have all legalised same-sex marriage. Finland, Slovenia, Luxembourg and Nepal are all committed to legalisation in the near future, and the subject is being energetically debated in many other countries. Same-sex marriage is a global phenomenon, and an unstoppable force.

I’ve been impressed by the degree to which this has become a political issue during the current election campaign. Julia Gillard has been asked repeatedly to explain her party’s position on same-sex marriage, and she has squibbed it every time. The ALP’s position on same-sex marriage (they’re against it, but for state-based “relationship registries”, as long as there’s no ceremony and no-one uses the ‘m’ word) is unsustainable within a party that claims to be progressive, and the party should adopt a more open-minded position. Unfortunately the ALP is scared witless of the political muscle of the Catholic Church and a few other religious minorities. That’s a disgraceful position for a party that claims to be socially progressive, and it partly explains the haemorrhaging of support to the Greens.

Julia Gillard could articulate a more open position on this issue, without unduly scaring the horses. She could acknowledge that it is an issue, for a start, instead of robotically chanting that ‘one man, one woman’ shibboleth. She could affirm that there will be no change in the short term, but espouse a personal belief that change will come when the nation – and the party – is ready. She could suggest we have a national debate on the issue over the coming term, and to develop a legislative response based on that. She could end the hateful and mean-spirited policy that prevents the issuing of ‘certificates of non-impediment to marry’ for same-sex couples intending marriage overseas. Or she could grow a pair and just say what we all know she, and Penny Wong, and probably most of the ALP party room, believes.

In the meantime the voices for same-sex marriage grow stronger and the arguments against it become ever more ineffective. We will win this – we have justice on our side; and a day will come when my Canadian marriage certificate will be recognised in my own country. In the meantime, my love and admiration goes out to all the hard-working queers who are keeping this issue on the agenda, organising the rallies, writing the petitions, fighting the good fight for equality and human rights.

See you at the rally.

Tagged , , ,

At least she’s consistent

Julia Gillard, last night on the 7 PM Project:

The night before on Q&A:

At a press conference on 2 August:

At least she’s consistent – consistently useless. Interesting to see how similar the answers were on the last two nights: she’s well drilled.

Gillard’s repeated argument that “there are a variety of community views on this topic” doesn’t hold water – the fact that some troglodytes in the Labor Party aren’t in favour of gay marriage does not justify perpetuating discrimination and unequal treatment. The ALP should discover some conviction about this issue and at least open the issue up for debate instead of constantly closing it down with this unsustainable, empty, unimaginative nonsense.

Until Gillard finds a way of answering this question in a more inclusive and open way, she will continue to fall in respect within the LGBT community.

Tagged , , ,