History of HIV in Australia
The very first case of HIV in Australia occurred in 1981, although the case was only retrospectively identified in 1994 in an article published in the Medical Journal of Australia. More cases of HIV/AIDS in Australia occurred in 1982 in Sydney, and the first death from AIDS in Australia was recorded in July 1983.
After the introduction of HIV testing in 1985, new HIV cases in Australia reached as high as 2,773 in 1987 and eventually declining to its lowest levels in 1999. Early cases of HIV in Australia were mostly diagnosed among men with a history of men-to-men sex. At the same time, low levels of diagnoses were observed in heterosexual transmission and the use of injections. Similarly, a low percentage of HIV diagnoses were associated with receipt of blood and blood products decline from 14% in 1985 to 1% in 1992.
The rapid decline in HIV cases observed between 1985 to 1999 has been attributed to the rapid adoption of HIV prevention practices such as safe sex and leading needle and syringe programs. Also, antiretroviral drugs for HIV infections became available in Australia in 1987 as monotherapy and were applied as dual therapy from 1992.
Notably, between 1999 and 2012, Australia witnessed a 48% increase in HIV diagnoses, between 2013 and 2017; however, HIV diagnoses in Australia decreased by 7%. The decrease is attributable to an increase in testing and increase of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP).
Response to HIV in Australia
The heath policy response to HIV in Australia has been described as a bottom-up approach as opposed to a top-down one. This response was characterised by a productive partnership between the government and non-government stakeholders. Subsequently, several government-funded prevention programs were launched to help keep infection rates low.
The Australian government also adopted an advertising strategy which was controversial at the time but proved effective. Blunt messages were delivered through the use of mainstream media, and this helped to manage the HIV epidemic.
Non-governmental organisations were also pivotal in addressing the problem of HIV in Australia. Organisations like the AIDS Trust of Australia, The Victorian AIDS Council and the Bobby Goldsmith Foundation all played major roles in managing HIV infection rates. Furthermore, gay, lesbian, drug user and sex worker communities, in response to the slander that accompanied the emergence of the disease, also helped rapidly create AIDS councils in states and territories to facilitate peer-led prevention and support.
Discussions among the various AIDS councils in Australia eventual gave way to the establishment of a new national community-based HIV organisation that is known as the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO). This organisation was to complement local efforts in areas like scientific research, access to HIV related tests and treatments, monitoring and setting clinical and support standards. The AFAO also made a substantial contribution to the development of the first strategy, which gave the Commonwealth government a leading role in the policy response to HIV in Australia.