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to Section One | to Arts & Entertainment
posted Friday, July 22, 2016 - Volume 44 Issue 30
Australian HIV/AIDS groups declare 'end of AIDS'
Section One
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Australian HIV/AIDS groups declare 'end of AIDS'

by Mike Andrew - SGN Staff Writer

The AIDS epidemic is over in Australia, according to a coalition of the country's leading HIV/AIDS organizations.

The Australian Federation of AIDS Organizations (AFAO) said in a July 10 press release that the number of HIV infections that advance to AIDS is now so small that public health officials no longer even monitor it.

At the peak of the epidemic in the 1990s, around 1,000 Australians were dying each year from AIDS. Now, however, new medications have revolutionized treatment.

'These days we don't even monitor it, it's a transitory thing for most people; people have AIDS, then they go on treatment and they don't have AIDS anymore,' Professor Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute, one of Australia's leading HIV research institutes, told the Australian Broadcasting Channel (ABC).

AFAO CEO Darryl O'Donnell said AIDS cases have dropped to such small numbers that they are no longer routinely recorded.

'AIDS is over in the way we knew it,' he said. 'We've got access to treatment that has had extraordinary effect, and community activism since the very early years of AIDS in the '80s and '90s has helped the efforts to fight it.'

Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute, told ABC that antiretroviral medications had been crucial to the epidemic's decline, allowing people diagnosed with HIV to live healthy, long lives.

'I've actually seen a dramatic transformation of HIV from a universal death sentence to now a chronic, manageable disease,' Professor Lewin said.

However, O'Donnell said Australia still has a major challenge in addressing HIV.

'We still have a huge task in dealing with the 1,100 to 1,200 cases of HIV per year,' he said. 'These are avoidable infections.'

O'Donnell stressed the importance of regular testing, since early diagnosis offers the best chance of treating HIV.

He added that the PrEP drug Truvada would likely be a game-changer, comparable to the impact of the contraceptive pill. 'We need urgent act

ion from the Australian government to subsidize this pill,' he said, adding that Truvada would see HIV cases halved in a year.

AIDS bodies have also advocated for more focus on the regional impact of the syndrome.

'We're incredibly fortunate here in Australia that we have an excellent health care system. In the Asia-Pacific, 180,000 people die from AIDS each year and of the 5 million living with HIV, only 2 million have access to treatment,' O'Donnell said.

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