Melbourne HIV/AIDS services downgraded


By Melani Iona

MELBOURNE — On May 18, a public meeting was held to protest against the possible closure of the Fairfield Infectious Diseases Hospital. At the meeting the Fairfield AIDS Action Coalition (FAACT) was formed, bringing together staff, patients, local residents and HIV/AIDS community members.

Spokesperson Lynette Harding describes the hospital as "world renowned for its excellent services". The hospital stands in the midst of parkland at Yarra Bend. Only 15 minutes from the city centre, it is easily accessible from many areas of Melbourne.

Over the last few years, hospital funds have been cut and maintenance has ceased. Grants for special research projects have been returned by hospital heads, without explanation.

A report released by FAACT highlights the downgrading and relocation of services. Clinical research laboratories, a resource centre, a chapel and AIDS garden, an on-site pharmacy and dental and other clinical services were once prominent and regularly used.

A discussion paper by the Metropolitan Hospitals Planning Board recommends the formation of seven networks of hospitals, the possible closure of Fairfield and the decentralisation of HIV/AIDS services.

It recommends that HIV/AIDS services be offered by two hospitals in the inner metropolitan area, with most in-patient services located at one site. St Vincent's hospital, an inner city location, is favoured.

FAACT aims to keep all Fairfield's services on the existing site, improve them and enhance them.

The Victorian Aids Council has reluctantly backed the board's recommendations. FAACT, however, claims that requests that the HIV/AIDS community be kept informed about any proposals has been ignored. "We are not being consulted at all", said Harding.

If a move is inevitable, FAACT want the same services to be made available. It is also concerned about possible loss of jobs, and the confusion in the community.