Thursday 1 December 2011

300 people living with HIV, as Cairns marks World AIDS Day

Today is World AIDS Day, observed around the world on December 1st.

Government and health officials throughout the world observe the event, often with speeches or forums on AIDS topics, since 1995, the President of the United States has made an official proclamation on World AIDS Day.

World AIDS Day was first observed on December 1, 1988. It has been common to hold memorials to honour persons who have died from HIV/AIDS on this day. This evening from 6pm, on the Esplanade (will be at the Budda Bar, above McDonalds, if raining.

Seth Fourmile will give a Welcome to Country followed by a performance from One Blood Dance group. Cairns Regional Council Mayor, Val Schier will speak, along with Dr Arden Dearden, and Bill Chappell. The Out Loud Choir will also entertain.

AIDS has killed more than 30 million since it was first recognised in 1981, and an estimated 33 million people worldwide live with HIV today, making it one of the most destructive epidemics in recorded history. Despite recent, improved access to antiretroviral treatment and care in many regions of the world, the AIDS epidemic claimed an estimated 2 million lives in 2007, of which about 270,000 were children. And over 7,000 new HIV infections continue to occur every single day in the world, predominantly in low and middle income countries.

Director of Sexual Health at Cairns Sexual Health Service, Dr Darren Russell, an Adjunct Associate Professor at James Cook University and the Clinical Associate Professor at the University of Melbourne, says in Cairns we have more than 300 people living with HIV, which is quite a large number for a smallish city. Of course we have a bigger epidemic on our doorstep in Papua New Guinea, where an estimated 34,000 people are living with HIV. PNG is only 800km to our north, whereas Brisbane is 1700km south. PNG is therefore of great importance to us in Cairns as we continue to deal with the issue of HIV.

Here's Dr Russell's speech on the launch of World AIDS Day in Cairns...
  • The United Nations General Assembly in June of this year made a Political Declaration on AIDS with 105 points aimed at finally eliminating HIV, including efforts to improve access to prevention, care, and treatment around the world.

    In addition, the UN remains deeply concerned that globally women and girls are still the most affected by the epidemic and that they bear a disproportionate share of the care-giving burden. Furthermore, the ability of women and girls to protect themselves from HIV continues to be compromised by physiological factors, gender inequalities, including unequal legal, economic and social status, insufficient access to health care and services, including for sexual and reproductive health, and all forms of discrimination and violence, including sexual violence and exploitation.

    The United Nations has also set the ambitious aim of halting and starting to reverse the rise in HIV infections by 2015, less than 4 years away. Even more than this, they plan to work towards reducing sexual transmission of HIV by 50 per cent by 2015; work towards reducing transmission of HIV among people who inject drugs by 50 per cent by 2015; and work towards the elimination of mother-to-child transmission of HIV by 2015 and substantially reducing AIDS-related maternal deaths.

    These are amazing goals, unthinkable even a couple of years ago. They will require each of us to work towards achieving them, and to keep pressuring governments to continue funding prevention programs that have been proven to work – programs that involve education, the provision of condoms and clean injecting equipment for those who use drugs, and more recently the use of antiviral HIV drugs to reduce a person’s infectiousness. These drugs are available to all those who require them in Australia, but that is not yet the case in PNG, where only 50% of those requiring HIV drugs to treat their infections are receiving these life-saving medicines.

    In my 21 years of working in the HIV field I have seen many changes. When I started work in 1990 we had only one HIV medicine – AZT – and it didn’t work well at all by itself. We know have over 25 drugs, and they are used in combinations of 3-4 drugs that suppress the virus that leads on to AIDS. In my early days of working in HIV/AIDS, the outlook for people with HIV was very poor indeed. It is now, of course, much better, such that people who have HIV can look forward to long, mainly healthy lives. People can have long-term, loving relationships, can have children who are free of HIV, and can lead long, productive lives.

    The word ‘cure’ is even being bandied about, although eradicating HIV totally from a person’s body may still be many years away. However, it is a wonderful thing to work towards.

    The theme for this year’s World AIDS Day is ‘HIV is still here’. The aim is to encourage all Australians to be aware of how common HIV is; to take action to reduce the transmission of HIV by promoting safe sex practices; and to accept individuals living with or affected by HIV/AIDS.

    HIV positive people need to be empowered in our society to feel included and to actually educate others about living with HIV/AIDS. People living with HIV have the right to participate in the community free from stigma and discrimination.

    With this in mind I would ask all of you – especially over the coming week - to think about HIV, to talk about HIV, and, if possible, to do something practical about the themes of World AIDS Day. HIV has not left us – ‘HIV is still here’.

  • WORLD AIDS DAY SERVICE: - 6pm tonight, Cairns Esplanade.

    (If raining, will be moved to Budda Bar, above McDonalds on the Esplanade, entry is on Shields Street).

    A Welcome to Country by Seth Fourmile. One Blood Dance group will perform followed by words from Mayor Val Schier and Dr Arden Dearden. Bill Chappelle will also speak on behalf of HIV positive community. Cairns' Out Loud Choir will entertain.

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