Australia will drop the term epidemic in regard to HIV/AIDS, citing fewer new cases in the past two decades and the advent of public awareness, diagnosis and antiretroviral treatments which have drastically changed the lifespan trajectory of those with the virus.
Professor Andrew Grulich, head of the HIV Epidemiology and Prevention Program at the Kirby Institute of the University of New South Wales, told the Sydney Morning Herald the decision to drop the term epidemic reflects case numbers and medical advances to treat the infected, while noting that continued public awareness remains crucial to prevent new cases.
The spread of HIV/AIDS is still a major focus globally and in Asia, with a World Health Organization estimate of 36.7 million people infected. China has taken a number of steps this year to provide more cost-effective therapies.
Grulich stressed that reaching a specific number was not the criteria for ending the use of the term epidemic.
"There's no magic number or threshold for measuring this," Grulich told the Sydney Morning Herald. "We just don't see much AIDS in Australia anymore. We've seen less visibility among gay men for a very long time."
The newspaper said that in the 1990s, about 1,000 Australians died annually from AIDs-related complications. But the improvement in treatments over the past two decades has seen the death toll drop sharply.
Australia's Public Benefits Scheme covers reimbursement for antiretroviral drugs, and has extended coverage to hepatitis C therapies in the past year, making it possible to receive sustained treatment.
But Grulich warned that AIDS remains a public health threat and that diagnoses for the virus have even gained 13% in the past decade partly because of a rise in unsafe sex. "People still die of AIDS. It can't be ignored at a societal or individual level," Grulich told the newspaper.
"When you don't have the ever present threat of a deadly disease hanging over you as was the case for gay men in the early (1990s) then of course behavior will change," he said. "The reality is that you won't take as many steps to protect yourself."
- here's the story from the Sydney Morning Herald