Browsing articles in "Australia"
13 June 2012
Bill Bowtell

Honours for Jenny Bott and Wayne Harrison

We are delighted to congratulate two great friends of Pacific Friends – Jenny Bott and Wayne Harrison – who received awards in the Order of Australia in the 2012 Queen’s Birthday Honours List. Jenny and Wayne were recognised for their outstanding contributions to the arts.

Ms Jennifer Bott AO
Jenny is the chief executive officer of the UNSW Foundation and a member of the Pacific Friends Advisory Council. Jenny greatly assisted in the smooth transition of Pacific Friends to its new home at the University of New South Wales and has been an invaluable source of advice and encouragement to Pacific Friends.
Mr Wayne Harrison AM
Wayne is an internationally-renowned producer, director and writer and a former artistic director of the Sydney Theatre Company. We were delighted that Wayne was artistic director for the remarkable World AIDS Day 2011 celebrations which were attended by the Governor-General and Sir Elton John.

We thank both of them for their continuing support for the work of Pacific Friends, and wish them every success.

Bill Bowtell
Executive Director, Pacific Friends of the Global Fund

19 April 2012
Tim Siegenbeek van Heukelom

Investment in HIV research saves lives and money

Today Michael Kirby, former justice of the High Court of Australia and now one of the Advisory Council members of Pacific Friends,  together with Brendan Crabbe, chief executive and executive director of the Burnet Institute, wrote a powerful op-ed for The Australian; arguing that “ongoing success with HIV demands continued investment” and will not only save lives, but also money.

MICHAEL KIRBY & BRENDAN CRABBE The Australian April 19, 2012

As the federal budget gets nearer, anxious thoughts turn to expenditures. Especially on medical research, always at risk of cuts and short-term perspectives.

The story of AIDS shows why this would be a big mistake.

The 1980s and 90s saw the first AIDS funerals in Australia. It was a desperate and sad time that devastated entire communities.

In those early days doctors were frustrated that they had nothing to offer that could palliate or cure this terrible disease. There was then a brave realisation that social science offered the best immediate course of action. Importantly, however, this action relied on the knowledge quickly gained by the research community about HIV, especially how the virus could be detected and how it spread. This knowledge quickly rendered our blood supplies safe, unlike much of the rest of the world.

Australia was at the cutting edge of these developments, both at the research and social levels. What ensued was direct outreach to the gay community, injecting drug users, sex workers and others most at risk. Our initiative brought about a rapid plateau in HIV infections in Australia. This was the first of four stages in the fight against the virus.

In the 90s the second stage, medical research, led to the emergence of the triple-combination drug therapies that brought huge relief to those already infected. Many of those living with the disease, including many friends, were able to live a real life again, lives filled with thoughts and pleasures beyond the ravages of this disease. It brought joy to their souls. To the credit of Australian politicians and medical leaders, again we quickly responded by investing in HIV research and in making these new therapies an essential part of our health system.

By the 2000s there was increasing pressure to provide antiretroviral drugs beyond the world’s wealthy countries to the poor. UNAIDS and the World Health Organisation developed strategies that vastly improved the length and quality of life for millions of people living with HIV, including in some of the poorest countries. Australia’s foreign aid has played a significant part in this third stage.

The global financial crisis, however, has proved a setback in the world’s fight against AIDS. Some of the richest countries have wound back funding previously made available for HIV programs in poorer countries. It is difficult to imagine a more shocking indictment of humanity than if people in less wealthy nations, who have been able to lead full lives with the benefit of antiretroviral therapies, are now to be plunged back into lives of disease and suffering because of the perceived priorities of the people of otherwise wealthy nations.

So here we are at the fourth stage of HIV. A crisis.

It is crucial that this decade sees an increased commitment to research investment. We must move beyond the purely palliative to focus on a cure and a vaccine against this devastating disease.

Australian medical researchers are at the forefront of this fight. The Burnet Institute in Melbourne and the Kirby Institute in Sydney are just two of many medical research institutes where pioneering research into a cure is under way. When the cure and vaccine are found, we will reach the fifth, and hopefully final, phase of AIDS.

The Australian people and their government should remain focused on defeating HIV. There seems to be no end of money available to honour sport in this country and we all expect that. But it would be a tragedy if we don’t similarly honour the work of our medical and social scientists.

The marriage between medical science and social science has delivered excellent outcomes in managing HIV, through scientific breakthroughs, the introduction of needle exchanges, outreach to the gay community and laws that facilitate prevention strategies with sex workers and drug users.

At less than one in 1000 people HIV positive, Australia has a relatively low rate of HIV infection in comparison with other developed nations. If HIV prevalence in Australia reached those levels seen today in the US, about 80,000 people would be infected and require lifelong treatment. Instead the number sits at 20,000. Our rapid response at home has saved thousands of lives and billions of dollars. This response is a lesson about the value of effective partnerships between affected communities, humanitarian forces, the scientific community and government. We have also helped our neighbours.

While important knowledge of HIV was gained overseas, much was secured in Australia. Our medical research community rapidly translated its knowledge into solutions. The HIV story affirms that medical research must have a strong local element if the nation is to see maximum benefit from new knowledge. Our ongoing success with HIV demands continued investment. Investment in medical and social science pays dividends — not only saving money. Saving lives.

10 October 2011
Tim Siegenbeek van Heukelom

“Australia should lead a global HIV prevention revolution”

Today Bill Whittaker had an opinion piece in the ABC’s DRUM, arguing that Australia should lead a global HIV prevention revolution.

The global fight against AIDS is at a crossroads. On the one hand we have exciting new scientific evidence which could dramatically reverse the pace of the HIV epidemic and prevent millions of new infections, sickness and deaths.

On the other hand, there is weariness and complacency after 30 years of the epidemic as well as a global financial crisis putting tremendous pressure on national budgets around the world and threatening funding essential to reverse the relentless spread of HIV.

Mind-numbing statistics speak for themselves about the scale of the HIV epidemic and the work to be done: 30 million lives lost; another 33 million people living with HIV; and 7000 new infections occurring every day, mostly among young people.

New HIV treatments are having a tremendous impact in reducing illness and AIDS-related deaths, but the sustainability of providing HIV treatment – especially in low to middle-income countries – is threatened by the reality that for every one person put on HIV treatment, another two people become infected.

Recently, the United Nations agreed to a bold new Declaration to fight AIDS which Australia played a leading role in getting all UN Member States to endorse. A centrepiece of the UN Declaration are bold new HIV prevention targets for the global community to reach by 2015.

These global targets include reducing sexual transmission of HIV by 50 per cent; reducing HIV transmissions through injecting drug use by 50 per cent; and eliminating mother-to-child HIV transmissions – all by 2015.

So how would these targets be achieved under the UN Declaration?  Firstly, by dramatically scaling up prevention programs; by freeing up access to HIV testing; by increasing HIV education alongside wide availability of condoms and sterile injecting equipment; by promoting male circumcision in certain contexts; and by fully exploiting the potential of new technologies for communication and connecting people – such as social media, mobile phones and the internet.

The UN Declaration also calls for global action to ensure prevention programs properly focus on the three populations which are universally at higher risk to HIV, specifically men who have sex with men, sex workers and their clients and people who inject drugs.

Finally, the Declaration calls for new scientific evidence about the additional prevention benefits that HIV treatment can deliver to be capitalised on. So just as HIV treatment was revolutionised 15 years ago by combining different drugs – termed “combination treatment” – the Declaration heralds an era of “combination prevention”, where proven prevention programs and communication innovation are combined with wide availability of HIV treatment to help drive down rates of new HIV infections.

So what should this mean for Australia? Our rate of new HIV infections is running at around 1,000 new infections per year, mostly among gay men. But should we be satisfied with this level of new infections – the personal and community impact of this – and the something like $1 billion plus price-tag that comes with each 1,000 new infections? Of course not.

Australia’s current National HIV strategy and most state and territory strategies continue a lamentable drift away from setting bold, time-bound HIV prevention targets so essential to generate momentum and monitor progress.

Now is the opportunity for us to embrace “combination prevention”, re-double our efforts and set bold HIV prevention targets aligned with the 2011 UN Declaration to really drive down Australia’s HIV infection rates.  These targets should include:

  • Reducing sexual transmission of HIV among men who have sex with men by 80 per cent by 2015.
  • Eliminating HIV transmission from injecting drug use by 2015.
  • Eliminating HIV transmission among sex workers and clients by 2015.

These prevention targets should be complemented by a treatment target of having 90 per cent of people with HIV in Australia on HIV antiviral treatment by 2013.

These are the kind of bold actions that the 2011 UN Declaration calls for and that all countries, including Australia, have pledged to implement.

Australia has shown great leadership and innovation in HIV prevention. One of the best things Australia can do to support a global HIV prevention revolution is to lead by example and champion what we are doing.  We must not miss this opportunity to re-vitalise our HIV prevention strategies and to help lead global efforts to stop the spread of HIV and its devastating impact on so millions of people around the world.

Bill Whittaker is one of the architects of Australia’s response to AIDS and has worked in HIV policy and strategy for more than 25 years. Bill is a member of Pacific Friends of the Global Fund’s Coordinating Committee.

Pacific Friends operates as a program within the Kirby Institute at the University of New South Wales.

Pacific Friends

Professor Janice Reid AC
Bill Bowtell AO
Executive Director

Pacific Friends of the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria is a high-level advocacy organisation which seeks to mobilise regional awareness of the serious threat posed by HIV & AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria to societies and economies in the Pacific. In pursuing its goals Pacific Friends has a specific interest in highlighting the need to protect the rights of women and children in the Pacific.



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