Australia’s only regional prevention service for HIV and blood-borne viruses has ceased operating in Bendigo.
Once bankrolled by the Victorian Department of Health and Human Services, the Country Awareness Network has not received funding to continue its advocacy and education work in Central Victoria.
CAN members were told the news in a letter from the organisation’s chairwoman, Mandy Ritchie.
She used the letter to explain CAN had sought to partner with other agencies to continue serving the community.
“As a stand-alone organisation, CAN was no longer able to achieve this,” she wrote.
But earlier this year the health department awarded contracts for Loddon Mallee HIV and BBV services to Bendigo Community Health Services and the Victorian AIDS Council.
A department spokesman said CAN was not invited to submit a tender for the service.
“Submissions were invited by agencies with demonstrated experience and expertise in delivering contemporary BBV/STI prevention, testing, treatment and care and also with a focus on local and state-wide service delivery partnerships,” the spokesperson said.
Ms Ritchie urged members to contact the new service providers, which she wrote were keen to maintain CAN’s connections.
“We are hopeful that these changes will ensure the needs of country Victorians in the Loddon Mallee region will remain on the agenda at all levels of Government and service provision,” she wrote, explaining her commitment to CAN members’ wellbeing remained “as strong as ever”.
VAC chief executive officer Simon Ruth said his organisation was well-placed to carry on CAN’s work, which it would do from the network’s Myer Street address.
“It was becoming much, much harder for smaller organisations like CAN to survive in this regulatory climate,” he said.
“They've got a great legacy.
“We look forward to building on that.”
CAN members have been offered 18 months’ free membership with VAC.
The change in service provider comes at an important time in the history of HIV prevention.
Last week, the Therapeutic Goods Administration approved the drug Truvada for use as a form of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) for HIV.
Trials of the drug in Australia and abroad have shown it is a highly-effective form of HIV prevention and TGA approval means it moves closer to inclusion on the Phamaceutical Benefits Scheme.
An estimated 27,150 Australians were believed to be living with HIV at the end of 2014.