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hepatitis needs greater national attention

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    Hepatitis needs greater national attention: Hepatitis Council PRINT FRIENDLY EMAIL STORY
    PM - Wednesday, 24 September , 2003 18:05:04
    Reporter: Tanya Nolan
    PETER CAVE: The announcement of the Wooldridge appointment has been cautiously welcomed by health professionals and lobby groups who have been demanding that the fight against both HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C be given new momentum.

    His predecessor the former Liberal Senator and past President of the New South Wales Anti-Discrimination Board, Chris Puplick, has been mired in controversy for months now amidst allegations he has used his position to help secure visa extensions for his friends.

    As Tanya Nolan reports, the Hepatitis Council is now calling on Professor Wooldridge to give the disease far greater national attention.

    TANYA NOLAN: It's the review health lobbyists have desperately been waiting for, but today they've been much more guarded in their appraisal after finally hearing Federal Health Minister Kay Patterson's response to the review of the national HIV/AIDS strategy.

    With HIV infection rates on the rise again in several states the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations had described the Minister's nine-month delay in releasing the report as disappointing, claiming it has created low morale within the lobby.

    Now AFAO's National President, Bill Whittaker, is encouraged by the Federal Government's refreshed commitment to a fifth national strategy.

    BILL WHITTAKER: We have now a window of opportunity to reverse that trend of new infections and to tackle some of the other serious problems highlighted in the review reports.

    TANYA NOLAN: What do you see in this announcement that satisfies some of those things that you've been demanding?

    BILL WHITTAKER: I think the commitment is the important thing, the commitment to develop a revitalised national AIDS strategy and the commitment to endorse many of the recommendations in the review reports.

    If the Government does that and works with other sections of the HIV/AIDS partnership, the medical, scientific community, and the community groups, then we've got a good chance of turning around several areas of serious weakness in our AIDS response.

    TANYA NOLAN: Confronted with a 45 per cent rise in the number of Hepatitis C infections in just four years, the Australian Hepatitis Council is more sceptical of the Government's commitment, and President Stuart Loveday wants assurances that Hep C will be treated with much greater urgency.

    STUART LOVEDAY: We do hope that Professor Wooldridge will be able to make the same commitments to Hepatitis C that he did to HIV/ AIDS when he was Health Minister.

    TANYA NOLAN: So you don't believe that Hepatitis C has been given enough attention in the past?

    STUART LOVEDAY: On the basis of what the Minister said this afternoon, we still maintain that Hepatitis C is the poor cousin of HIV and AIDS, and this is of great concern to us because what the Minister said, she acknowledged that the first… that the review was there to develop the second Hepatitis C strategy, and while the Minister noted the two positive findings of that review, she singularly failed to point out that the first strategy had not stemmed or addressed the rise in Hepatitis C infections at all.

    TANYA NOLAN: The Federal Government may've been hoping that the restructuring of the National Council on AIDS and the replacement of its Chair, Chris Puplick, may have taken some heat out of what has become a contentious position in recent times.

    The former Liberal Senator, Mr Puplick, has been surrounded by allegations that he has used his influence on more than one occasion to achieve favourable immigration outcomes for his friends.

    But controversy will continue to dog the role according to the Opposition, with Health Spokeswoman, Julia Gillard describing the appointment of former Health Minister Michael Wooldridge as a disgrace.

    JULIA GILLARD: This is government by the mates for the mates.

    When Michael Wooldridge was the Howard Government's Health Minister he recommended that Senator Kay Patterson be his successor.

    Now Kay Patterson is the Health Minister and one of the things she uses that power for is to give Michael Wooldridge this position.

    He's possibly best remembered as the Minister for Health at the time of the MRI scam scam, then of course his exit from the position of Minister for Health was clouded by the $5 million payment for GP House and his subsequent turning up working for the same organisation he had granted $5 million to when he was Minister.

    I am obviously concerned that clouds will also gather over this appointment, because Michael Wooldridge's track record in public life has been as a divisive figure.

    PETER CAVE: The Opposition's Health Spokeswoman, Julia Gillard.
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