It is thirty five years since Australia first began concerted action to deal with the scourge that we now call HIV/AIDS, and while we have made significant progress, the disease is still a significant challenge for Australia.
Australia has made great strides on HIV/AIDS since the Hawke Labor Government led the world with its response to the epidemic in the 1980s.
But Turnbull’s cuts and neglect mean that Australia is not on track to meet its target of ending new HIV infections by 2020. We cannot allow Australia’s good progress to be replaced by cuts and complacency.
Around 1000 Australians are infected each year, and of particular concern is the slow but sustained increase in infection rates in Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander communities in Australia.
Critical in achieving the goal of ending domestic HIV transmission in Australia will be the use of pre-exposure prophylaxis medicine (PrEP). Some Australians are already accessing PrEP through studies or state based schemes, but consistent, national access to PrEP is the next phase in Australia’s public health response and a critical component of getting to zero new infections, along with regular testing and Treatment as Prevention (TasP).
The success of the approach in Australia has been recognised around the world where, regrettably, progress has not been nearly as clear cut.
According to the World Health Organisation, there were more than 36 million people living with HIV at the end of 2016, with 1.8 million new infections recorded globally in that year.
In our own region, we have recorded considerable gains against HIV/AIDS but there are worrying signs that rather than continuing to fall, new HIV infection rates are plateauing or even rising in some countries and regions. HIV/AIDS is still far too high in Papua New Guinea, not helped by cuts to both the domestic health budget and a restructuring of Australia’s approach to supporting HIV/AIDS programs.
In many developing countries, there are systematic problems in HIV/AIDS management, treatment and prevention.
We must do all that we can to assist our friends and neighbours to meet and defeat the challenges of HIV/AIDS and to improve their health systems such as through our ongoing investments in organisations such as the Global Fund to fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, which has helped Thailand for instance, reduce HIV infection rates by as much as 75 per cent.
To address the global HIV/AIDS challenge, we need concerted and increased international action.
As we are all too aware, the HIV virus feeds on fear, stigma and discrimination. Our task now is to look beyond our borders and re-double our efforts to destroy fear, stigma and discrimination wherever they occur and end the scourge of HIV/AIDS both here, and abroad.