Doctor Darren Russell has topped The Bulletin’s annual Smart 100 list in the health category for his work in HIV/AIDS.

It’s a bit of a win really for doctors who have worked with people with HIV over the last 20 years of the epidemic, and also for AFAO, the community organisation representing people with HIV, Russell told Sydney Star Observer.

Russell is president of the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations and began working in the field of HIV in 1990.

Martyn Goddard, who co-judged the category, praised Russell in The Bulletin as one of the few people to bridge the gap between professional medicine and the community it serves. Other doctors, Goddard said, ensured a safe emotional distance.

Russell told the Star his approach just felt natural.

I probably never had the view that we had to maintain such a distance between patient and doctor, Russell said. And I also like the gay community, I like the HIV-positive community. There’s such vibrancy and such life. Such a willingness to thumb one’s nose at convention. I liked that, it appealed to me.

Russell continues to enjoy working with people with HIV as a GP at the Melbourne Sexual Health Centre but said the recent rise in HIV infections was dispiriting.

I think many of us got a bit complacent in 97 and 98 when we had the lowest number of transmissions that we knew of since the start of the epidemic -¦ he said. It wasn’t any one individual thing that caused that rise, but it was disheartening nonetheless, working as a doctor in HIV, seeing people seroconverting again and making lots of new diagnoses -¦

This year’s health finalists were judged by Dr Heather Buchan, Martyn Goddard and Professor Ad? Green AC, with a particular focus on unsung heroes. The Bulletin’s Smart 100 list honours Australians in fields including the arts, sport and education.

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