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An end in sight, but some way to go

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02 Dec 2015

Below is the transcript of a speech given by NAPWHA board member and long-term survivor David Menadue at Parliament House in Canberra on World AIDS Day 2015.

Ministers Sussan Ley and Steve Ciobo, Shadow Ministers Catherine King and Tanya Plibersek, Professor Andrew Grulich, honoured guests and everybody here today.

Can I first acknowledge the traditional people of the land on which we meet, and pay my respects to their elders past and present.

Can I thank you for the invitation here today — the most important day in the year for people living with HIV and our community organisations.

I have lived with HIV through most of the epidemic in Australia, for more than 30 years, and I have to say that one of the things I am most grateful for has been the bipartisan support we have received from both sides of politics for much of that time. That has meant that Australia’s response to the epidemic has, in many areas, led the world and managed to limit infections below levels seen in many other Western countries.

A crucial component of Australia’s response was the active involvement of positive people themselves. If we are to end HIV, positive people must continue to guide the way. They must remain front and central to Australia’s commitment to ending HIV by 2020.

To reach the goals that our Health Ministers have signed up to — getting 90% of HIV-positive people knowing their status, 90% of those diagnosed on treatment, and 90% of those on treatment acquiring an undetectable viral load — we still have some way to go.

If we are to end HIV, it is vital that every positive person is aware of their status. A median time between infection and diagnosis of four years indicates we are failing in this regard. We must encourage people to regularly test for HIV and to support rapid testing programs.

Currently, 73 percent of Australia’s positive population is on antiretroviral treatment. With current research showing the huge benefits of treating upon diagnosis, we must all put our efforts into educating people with HIV to commence treatment as soon as possible — for the sake of their own health and in order to protect others.

The good news is more than 90 percent of those on treatment have achieved and maintained an undetectable viral load. This, as we know, makes people living with HIV highly unlikely to transmit the virus.

As a matter of urgency, NAPWHA calls on the government to speed up the licensing process for Truvada as PrEP. PrEP will equip us with the ability to maintain the negative status of high-risk groups.
Around 25 percent of positive people are in a relationship with a negative partner. We are, therefore, well placed to educate about the benefits of PrEP.

We need to continue to support the excellent work of organisations representing gay men, sex workers, people who inject drugs and people from CALD backgrounds who are at risk of the virus.

For many of the difficult years in the 80s and 90s, I never thought I'd see the day we can say that an end is in sight to this horrible virus, but with recent advances and enough will, I'm sure that day will come — hopefully in my lifetime.