Far from being the death sentence it once was, HIV is now a manageable condition that no longer means those infected will go on to develop AIDS. In fact, so successful has the treatment been in the last two decades that experts in Australia have declared the AIDS epidemic “over” in the country. Scientists are quick to stress that this does not mean the end of HIV, but simply that it is no longer a death sentence.
The number of deaths from AIDS in the country has dropped from a peak of around 1,000 people a year during the height of the epidemic in the 1990s to a number so low that it is not even recorded anymore. Organizations and researchers who deal with the virus are now calling for a step up in programs in order to prevent HIV infections even further. While HIV is an incredibly serious illness, it is now considered a chronic but manageable infection.
There are still more than 1,000 new diagnoses of HIV within Australia each year, and there is a fear that younger people who did not witness the devastation wrought by the virus in the 80s and 90s have become complacent. There is also a worry that this news about the end of the AIDS epidemic may feed into this narrative, but at the same time doctors feel it is important to dispel the outdated myths and stigma that still cling on about the illness. HIV is simply not the same disease it was 20 years ago.
The development of antiretroviral therapy (ART) has made a massive difference in keeping the virus under control. While it cannot cure the disease, it allows for those who have been infected to live healthier and longer lives, as well as helping to reduce the risk of transmission. And it is this last aspect that experts are now saying needs focus. This includes dealing with the worrying trend of careless behavior among young people, as well as reassessing the availability of pre-exposure prophylaxis drugs, such as Truvada, which are taken by HIV-negative people in order to lower the risk of infection.
While this is good news, there have also been calls to help those with HIV in less advantaged nations. In the Asia-Pacific region alone, there are an estimated 1.2 million cases of HIV reported each year, leading to around 180,000 cases of AIDS. Advocates hope that Australia will now set its sights on helping those less developed nations tackle the illness in as successful a way as they have already managed.