Leading the Australian component of the study that will examine HIV/AIDS infections in indigenous communities will be Professor John Kaldor of the University of New South Wales.
“There is much we need to learn about HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment in indigenous people. This research programme will set up collaborative studies in each of the three countries to explore how indigenous people are able to protect themselves against these infections,” Professor Kaldor said in a written statement.
Australian statistics compiled by the HealthInfoNet website indicate that while HIV/AIDS infections among indigenous people are generally low and that diagnoses are similar to those of non-indigenous Australians, there are some key differences.
The incidence of HIV infection among indigenous women is much higher, over 18 percent, compared with five percent for non-indigenous women.
Transmission is also more likely to occur as a result of heterosexual intercourse, accounting for 30 percent of indigenous AIDS cases as opposed to 7 percent for the general population.
Professor Kaldor said the similar histories and experiences of Canadian, New Zealand and Australian indigenous peoples was an important factor in motivating the collaboration between researchers.
“These are countries that share, in terms of having a similar colonial background in some ways to Australia… and they also share the experiences of having substantial indigenous communities in which how to improve (health) is a high-level concern,” he told ABC radio.
The federal government has set aside $1.7 million for the five year project to be administered by the National Health and Medical Research Council (NHMRC).
The Canadian Institutes of Health and Research (CIHR) and New Zealand’s Health Research Council (HRC) will each commit $1.65m and $1.66m, respectively, towards their studies.
Professor Kaldor said that a central aspect of the research will be to develop a better understanding of resilience and measures used by indigenous communities to protect themselves against the spread of HIV/AIDS.
“The research will be done in full collaboration with indigenous communities, from planning through to regular reporting of results,” Professor Kaldor said.
The studies are expected to be completed in 2009.