AIDS is no longer a threat to public health in Australia and has transitioned to an HIV prevention challenge, leading scientists have declared.
HIV and AIDS organisations and researchers have called on the nation to work together to end HIV as they celebrate the “extraordinary progress” in eliminating AIDS as a threat to public health.
The number of people dying from AIDS has reduced from 1000 per year in the peak of the epidemic in the early 1990s to a figure so low, it is not even recorded.
“The AIDS public health threat has morphed into an HIV prevention challenge,” said Professor Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute, Australia’s peak HIV research body.
Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations CEO Darryl O’Donnell told BuzzFeed News the condition people have “so long feared” is no longer seen in Australia in the way it is remembered from the ’80s and ’90s.
“People diagnosed with HIV can live a full and healthy life, with a normal life expectancy,” he said. “HIV is still an incredibly serious illness, and there’s no easy road for it. But it is not a death sentence.”
HIV is a chronic but manageable virus that attacks the immune system, while AIDS is a condition that can follow on from untreated HIV.
There are 1100 new diagnoses of HIV in Australia each year.
O’Donnell acknowledged that some may see this announcement as fuelling complacency over HIV, but “the alternative is much worse”.
“The alternative is that a large number of people continue to hold on to outdated understandings of HIV and AIDS. It brings a lot of stigma, a lot of shame. It’s not like that now,” he said.
“We’re very comfortable with the community updating the public of where HIV and AIDS are up to in Australia.”
Highly effective HIV drug Truvada was recently approved for use as a prevention method in Australia, but is yet to be added to the Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme, which would make it much more affordable.
The PBS Advisory Committee met last week to consider the application from Gilead, the producer of Truvada.
O’Donnell said the outcome of the discussions should be known in the second half of August.
Cipri Martinez, President of the National Association of People Living with HIV Australia, said “the virtual elimination of AIDS cases in Australia is an important milestone, but a crucial element to ending HIV in Australia is to encourage the uptake of antiretroviral medicine so that HIV positive people can become undetectable and uninfectious to others.”
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