Speaking in the lead up to World AIDS Day (Sunday 1 December), the University’s Associate Professor Paul Sendziuk says there should be a greater focus on reinforcing the positive work already done in Australia to slow the spread of AIDS.
“While infections are still occurring today, Australia has been incredibly successful in managing AIDS thanks to the pragmatic approach taken by successive governments and health authorities,” says Associate Professor Sendziuk, who is author of Learning to Trust: Australian Responses to AIDS.
“Our strong focus on harm minimisation, with needle exchanges, promotion of condom use, and education programs for sex workers, drug users and gay organisations, has yielded great benefits over the years.
“While we should be concerned about any increase in cases, it’s all too easy to become alarmist. Australia should now be looking at where the gaps are in education and support, and provide more assistance so that we can continue to be a model nation for the rest of the world on this issue,” he says.
Associate Professor Sendziuk says the current upward trend in HIV/AIDS cases is mostly occurring in the gay and Indigenous communities.
“One of the big issues is drug use leading to unsafe sex. Because drugs impair people’s judgment, this behaviour leads to further risks. It’s a challenge for education programs alone to combat this problem,” he says.
“Another recent trend is the use of social media. With social media, it’s now easier for people to meet up with strangers for casual sex, without really knowing anything about them. On the positive side, social media provides new methods of educating the community about safe sex practices, helping to reach people that could never easily be reached before.”
Associate Professor Sendziuk says one of the major changes that has occurred over the years is the “mainstreaming” of services to people who are at risk of or living with HIV/AIDS.
“The provision of services has been taken up by mainstream health clinics, and the range of services being provided today is much broader than it’s ever been. That brings with it some great benefits and has helped to make AIDS less of a stigma in the community. However, it also means that there’s now less direct funding for HIV/AIDS services, which is something that should be addressed,” he says.
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