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For 40 years we have led the world in tackling HIV and AIDS. As a result of the great work of governments of both political persuasions, health professionals, the champions in this room and many others working with the LGBTIQ community, sex workers, intravenous drug users and others, we are now living in an era where HIV is no longer a death sentence, and we can dare to hope for its elimination.
And while we have made great progress, there is much work for us still to do – here and abroad.
I make the point which Marise made and which has been a theme of every breakfast I have attended, that one of the key preconditions for the success here in Australia has been the non-partisan status of HIV-AIDS policy. In my more dark moments I do wonder whether the polity would actually have been capable of delivering the same sort of change today. I hope so, I hope so.
As I said, we do have much more to do. There has been a 7 per cent decrease in the number of HIV diagnoses in Australia in the last five years, due principally to a decrease in diagnoses among men reporting male to male sex. But there has not been a corresponding decline in those Australians who have acquired HIV from heterosexual sex. This unwelcome development needs to be carefully monitored.
Alarmingly, in the Aboriginal and Torres Strait Islander population, the rate of HIV notifications increased by 41 per cent between 2013 and 2016, and in 2017 remains 1.6 times higher than the Australian born non Indigenous population.
Globally, there are some stark and somewhat grim statistics. According to UNAIDS 36.9 million people were living with AIDS in 2017, a number that, regrettably, continues to rise.
In the Asia-Pacific region, HIV-AIDS affected 5.2 million people in 2017, with 280,000 new diagnoses and, sadly, 170,000 succumbing to the illness. Only 2.7 million people – just over half those infected – were accessing treatment.
We know that last year women accounted for almost 60 per cent of new HIV-AIDS infections among young adults, and that increased vulnerability to HIV-AIDS is linked to domestic violence – physical and sexual assault committed by partners or family members.
It is simply unacceptable that, in the past year, over 650,000 young women between the ages of 15 and 24 were infected each week around the world.
While we do not have the precise numbers for the Asia Pacific region, we know anecdotally that women remain highly vulnerable to HIV-AIDS infection.
Women cannot contribute to and share in the growing prosperity of the region if they face these sorts of health challenges. It is critically important that we tackle this problem.
These figures are just that – they demonstrate the scale of the challenge we as a global community face.
But this is not simply a numbers problem – it is a human problem and it is a development problem.
Communicable diseases remain a principal obstacle to the creation of human and social capital throughout the developing world.
Tackling this challenge is key to driving inclusive and sustainable development. We obviously face an election soon and if we have the privilege of being elected, a Shorten Labor Government is determined to take on the challenge of sustainable development, particularly in our region.
Just last month, Bill Shorten delivered an important speech at the Lowy Institute where he outlined Labor’s foreign policy and announced a significant re-focus on the Pacific.
He emphasised that a Labor Government will seek to engage with ‘the Blue Continent’ on the basis of partnership, not paternalism.
This approach has a direct bearing on how a Shorten Labor Government will seek to address the HIV-AIDS issue in Pacific nations.
I have previously said that our priority in the delivery of development assistance will be health and education.
I have emphasised the need for reinforcing the social services infrastructure in the nations of the Pacific, and for government and non-government agencies, as well as the private sector, to work collaboratively to address the health deficit.
This is nowhere more important than in addressing the challenge of HIV-AIDS. Diagnosis and treatment need to be supported by community education if progress is to be made towards the 2020 global target.
We in Australia have succeeded because government, non-government agencies, civil society, the private sector have worked together. We have succeeded because we have proceeded on the basis of inclusion, non-judgement, and we have also tackled prejudice and discrimination along the way.
I thank all of those champions in the room who were critical to that both as architects and as implementers, and continue to be. And I reflect that that success must be replicated in the way we approach the development challenge.
Thank you very much for the opportunity to speak with you.
Authorised by Noah Carroll, ALP, Canberra.