Seizing the opportunity to end the fight against HIV in Australia
HIV has not gone away but it has drifted out of the public and political spotlight. For a short period, over the coming months, we can expect much greater interest and this is an opportunity to drive actions.
One week in July thousands of scientists, policy makers and community activists will descend on Melbourne for the 2014 International AIDS Congress. But after the closing ceremony, when the journalists have moved onto other stories and when politicians’ attention wanes once more what will the lasting community legacy be?
Living with HIV still means living with a potentially life threatening virus, for life. Whilst treatments are usually highly effective, no medication is without side-effects for some and the personal and social consequences of living with HIV are often life transforming for many of us.
Right now is a good time to be acting on some bold goals for ending the HIV epidemic in Australia, ones which our community can embrace and ones which are backed by real political commitment and the resources we will need to make a difference.
It is time for decisive political leadership to come out and commit to supporting the community vision of the virtual elimination of HIV transmissions and the best care, support and treatment for people living with HIV. Addressing HIV stigma issues underpins these goals.
Across the world we are seeing some major successes in reducing the number of new HIV infections, especially in mother to child transmissions. However poor progress in reducing new infections in men who have sex with men is disheartening and in some cases disturbing. In several countries it is now clear that stigma and discrimination towards LGTBI communities and criminalisation is negatively impacting HIV testing rates and the roll out of treatment.
Last month the Australian government released a draft National HIV Strategy for community comment. This will be the seventh strategy since the early days of the Australian epidemic.
What is different this time around is that, for the first time, the national response proposes setting some bold goals. These include achieving a major decrease in the number of people who are living unaware they are HIV positive (more regular HIV testing is needed) and significantly increasing the number of people living with HIV who are on antiretroviral treatments.
Living Positive Victoria has argued that we can go even further and that nationally we should share a vision where new HIV infections are effectively ended by 2020. Whilst highly ambitious we believe this is achievable, if supported by political commitment.
Community led organisations, such as Living Positive Victoria, have essential roles to play in impacting such bold goals but we cannot be expected to do it alone. There will be some tough decisions and we will need to be highly focussed, work smarter and operate in effective partnerships. It’s an opportunity we should not let pass by.