Sydney is on track to eliminate HIV transmission by 2025, after four decades of its arrival in Australia.
According to a report by the ABC, Sydney’s gaybourhoods, east and inner west Sydney, are poised to be the first place in the world to end community transmission of HIV.
‘It’s A Great Achievement’
Effective elimination is defined as a 90 percent reduction in new HIV cases over a decade.
Andrew Grulich, Head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute, expects Sydney to reach this milestone in 2025.
“My life and research has been over that period. So, it’s been terrible, and it’s been extraordinary, and now it’s getting close to wonderful, really, with the possibility that we have,” Grulich said, in an interview with the ABC.
In an interview with Star Observer, Director of HIV and Sexual Health at ACON, Matthew Vaughan, explained that, “Biomedical prevention has played a critical role at reducing HIV transmissions in NSW – either through PrEP or with people who are living with HIV and taking their treatment.
“This is important because we know that not only is this good for their own health, but it also means they cannot pass on the virus to anyone else.”
“It’s a great achievement,” said Strategic Health Policy Consultant Bill Bowtell.
“Over 40 years – so many people have given their lives to get here. So I’m quietly proud. I think of all the people who made such an effort, and to bring it in now to a situation where we are looking at the virtual elimination of HIV transmission locally.”
Health Authorities Responded To The Panic With Education
In the 80s, Bowtell was senior advisor to Federal Health Minister Neal Blewett and an architect of Australia’s response to the emergence of HIV.
At the time, health authorities responded to the panic and misinformation, which accompanied the emerging virus, by providing the public with information and education.
Speaking to Star Observer, CEO of Health Equity Matters Darryl O’Donnell said, “Sydney’s progress with HIV reflects decades of enlightened political leadership but just as importantly an unceasing community commitment to fight stigma, amplify empathy and put people at the centre of the treatment and prevention effort. This unique alchemy is a world-leading model.”
By decriminalising sex work, providing free needle exchange, and bringing together researchers, politicians, doctors, and those most at risk, Australia was able to manage the spread of the virus.
Bowtell explained that, “Bit by bit, the new rate of infections started to come down and had diverged remarkably, from what was happening in places like the United States and Europe”
According to Bowtell, in the United States under President Reagan, “Callously and cynically they said, ‘Well, they deserve to die. This is God’s punishment’. Nothing could be more preposterously silly than saying that. It’s a virus, not God’s punishment.
“But, that made sure that in America, a manageable, serious problem – but manageable, became a pandemic.”
Heading In The Right Direction, But More Work To Do
While we are heading in the right direction, there is still a lot of work that needs to be done.
Vaughan explained, “We are not seeing the same declines in HIV infections among those living outside metropolitan areas, like Western and South Western Sydney, as well as among overseas-born gay and bi+ men. Ensuring these groups are receiving appropriate and tailored HIV testing, prevention and treatment messages is critical.”
The stigma associated with HIV is another challenge that needs to be addressed.
Vaughan stressed, “We know stigma can have profound impacts on those living with HIV, and it can prevent others at risk from seeking resources and getting tested so it’s important that we continue to challenge and address HIV stigma.”