NSW Health minister Craig Knowles yesterday acknow-ledged the hard work of HIV/AIDS researchers and campaigners in the two decades since the first Australian HIV diagnosis was made at Darlinghurst’s St Vincent’s Hospital.

Knowles paid particular tribute to Professor Ron Penny, who made the first diagnosis in 1982.

Penny, who recently retired from his post as head of immunology at St Vincent’s Hospital, has been at the forefront of HIV/AIDS research and treatment.

ACON president Adrian Lovney also acknowledged Penny’s work, calling him much more than a doctor.

Much of our success in containing the HIV epidemic in Australia is thanks to the foresight of Professor Penny, Lovney said.

He was a pioneering activist who laid the foundations for our success in controlling this epidemic by involving the affected communities, positive people and being vocal about the need for needle and syringe programs. These factors all contribute to how Australia’s epidemic is very different to that of overseas.

Penny had also worked to dispel early fears and misinformation that HIV/AIDS was only a gay men’s disease.

Professor Penny recognised early on that discrimination against gay men would affect the way the epidemic played out and he sought to dispel the many myths about HIV transmission.

Penny was on the board who approved the most memorable HIV/AIDS advertising campaign, featuring the grim reaper bowling down men, women and children.

The ad became seen as a condemnation of promiscuous homosexual activity, which was not its intention, Penny told Australian Associated Press reporters yesterday.

The grim reaper campaign had been misunderstood and misused to demonise gay men. The reaper character was mistaken for an HIV-positive person, when it was meant to represent the virus itself, Penny said.

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