ONE of Australia’s major hubs for HIV research, the Kirby Institute, has received a multi-million dollar boost following the opening of its new home in Sydney’s eastern suburbs.

NSW Health Minister Jillian Skinner announced the funding yesterday which will see the Kirby Institute handle $3 million over five years for the support and development of systems for the evaluation of the government’s HIV health strategy.

The funding will come from government coffers and from the University of NSW (UNSW) where the Kirby Institute is now based.

Skinner likened the quest for an HIV cure to the Apollo 11 mission to the moon and the Manhattan Project which saw the development of the nuclear bomb.

All three, she said, were examples of “big science” and required a “coordination and commitment on an equally unparalleled scale”.

“The goal of the elimination of HIV/AIDS from our planet,  just as we have eliminated smallpox, is not any impossible dream,” Skinner said.

“A Manhattan Project mindset and an Apollo 11 goal must come together to make this real. In that project the Kirkby Institute will continue to play a leading role as it has in the past decades.”

Speaking to the Star Observer, Skinner also said NSW had played a leading role in new innovations in HIV.

“Everything that we’re working towards [such as] extending the places where you can have testing done and treatments that are more widely available might be incremental but it’s going much faster that even I dreamed in the start and people are saying ‘if they’re prepared to do that in NSW we better get on board’,” she said.

The Health Minister also said she hoped pre-exposure prophylaxis treatments, or PrEP, which the UN last week urged all sexually active gay men to consider taking regardless of their HIV status, would soon become available.

The opening sees the Kirby Institute leave its former home in Darlinghurst – next to St Vincent’s Hospital – for the new $80 million building on UNSW’s Kensington campus located next door to the Lowy Cancer Centre.

Former High Court Justice Michael Kirby, who the centre is named after, told the Star Observer he was proud to be so closely associated with the Institute “and the wonderful work that’s been done for the community of which I am a part.”

The new building, he said, would be a “institute of serendipity” putting people together in to one place to discuss new ideas and allowing much closer interaction between the medical and social science.

However, Justice Kirby expressed concern at the latest HIV figures, released today, which show new infection rates remain at a 20-year high.

“The figures are concerning and they do tend to indicate that people think that AIDS is over  well it’s not over, it’s with us and will be until we secure a total cure for HIV,” he said.

(Main image: Michael Kirby & Jillian Skinner at the opening of the new Kirby Institute last night. Photo: Ann-Marie Calilhanna; Star Observer)



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