Opening of the new Awhina Centre – New Zealand AIDS Foundation Wellington Regional Office

  • Annette King

Thank you for the opportunity to open the new Awhina Centre today. The Awhina Centre has been providing care for people living with HIV/AIDS in the Wellington Region for more than 11 years, so while the venue of the centre may now be different, the level and quality of service remains the same.

I note that centre staff describe the word “awhina” as meaning to help, assist and provide relief with warmth and care. I believe this people-centred approach is an extremely important part of treatment and support for people living with HIV/AIDS.

Recently I attended the United Nations General Assembly Special Session on HIV/AIDS. For me, it alerted me to the importance of maintaining a health promotion approach to HIV/AIDS, namely:
·Making prevention the mainstay of the response
·Leadership and partnership from a range of sources, including community-based groups, people living with HIV/AIDS, government and civil society
·Realisation of human rights to reduce vulnerability to HIV/AIDS
·Giving vulnerable groups priority in the response
·Empowering women to help reduce vulnerability, and
·Ensuring people living with HIV/AIDS play a full part in the response.

The UN Special Session brought home to me the fact that New Zealand has been remarkably successful in combating the epidemic. I believe this is primarily because:
·Affected communities took a lead role in developing prevention, treatment and care programmes right from the outset, and that the
·Government addressed important public policy issues such as homosexual law reform, and human rights in order to help reduce vulnerability.
The Wellington response has also been successful, because there is a history of key providers and community representatives working together to deliver comprehensive programmes to the diverse groups of people affected by HIV/AIDS. This includes regular meetings of the HIV Forum, as well as routine day-to-day contact. The Awhina Centre has made an important contribution to this working partnership right from the outset.

This people-centred rather than provider-centred approach is, I believe, a model for health services of the 21st century.

However, as you will be only too aware, we cannot afford to be complacent about HIV/AIDS in New Zealand.

Safer sex behaviours need to be sustained amongst men who have sex with men. Overseas this is proving to be problematic. We must therefore ensure that well researched, accessible and high profile prevention programmes are available in Wellington focusing on and involving young men who may be gay, sex on site venues, male sex workers, people living with HIV/AIDS and community groups.

Wellington also has an increasingly diverse population make-up. We must continue to ensure appropriate testing, treatment and support services are available for both women and men from a variety of backgrounds.

Based on its past record, I am sure the Awhina Centre will continue to meet these challenges of the 21st century.

So it gives me great pleasure today to declare the new Awhina Centre open.