The recent global news story that a newborn child in the US had been "functionally" cured of HIV was a powerful reminder of just how far we have come in the past three decades. The "Mississippi Baby" encapsulates the hope that many of us now share - to one day finding a cure for HIV. It also reminds us of the great contribution that Science has made in transforming what was once a death sentence into a chronic manageable disease.
HIV treatments can now transform lives; antiretrovirals are highly effective, and if started at the right time, the life expectancy of someone living with HIV is the same as an uninfected person. Treatment also dramatically reduces HIV transmission. These striking scientific advances have led many to believe that seeing an end to AIDS is no longer a dream - but within our reach now. The challenge now is marshalling the required forces -- scientific, clinical, political and funding - to do what we know works.
Australia's track record has to date been largely exemplary: bold and decisive bipartisan leadership at the onset of and throughout the epidemic means that Australia has very low levels of HIV infection in the general population. We have an enduring model of partnership between all communities affected by HIV infection, researchers, clinicians and the federal, state and territorial governments.
But our AIDS response is not perfect and there is much to be done. Men who have sex with men still remain disproportionately affected, and disappointingly the number of new infections each year in Australia has not declined for now over 10 years. Our indigenous communities remain at risk. One thousand new HIV infections per year in Australia is one thousand too many.
As a global community none of us can be complacent - whether we live in a high or low income country or have a generalised or localised epidemic. There are many countries far less fortunate than us - many of whom are our immediate neighbors. There are five million people living with HIV in Asia. Stigma and discrimination remains widespread and we must work together to see this end. Marginalised groups such as sex workers, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men and transgender people in our region still do not enjoy the same kind of access to treatment and prevention that we have here in Australia. Continued widespread access to antiretrovirals will save millions of lives and prevent millions of new infections. Australia's investment in this global effort must continue..
Since the first reports of HIV in the early 1980s, Australia has always played a leading role in HIV research -involving basic laboratory research aimed at finding a vaccine or cure, clinical research both locally and in the region, political science, as well as social and public health research. Investment in research has demonstrated and continues to demonstrate major health benefits. Research informs effective public health policies. Research has changed the lives of people living with HIV.
In July 2014, 18 000 scientists, bureaucrats, activists, politicians, doctors and nurses from around the world will descend on Melbourne for AIDS2014 -the 20th International AIDS Conference. AIDS2014 will be the biggest health conference ever to come to Australia. It will present Australia with an opportunity to share our successes, inspire communities and build on the many, recent and promising developments which give real hope that an end to AIDS can and will be achieved -- for everyone.