Reflecting on 30 years of HIV and AIDS research

Burnet Institute

24 June, 2013

Federal Health Minister, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP highlighting Burnet’s HIV work. Photo credit: Leigh Atkinson, Imagemakers.

Canberra, Australia – It’s 30 years since HIV was discovered. What followed was one of the deadliest and most frightening epidemics the world has ever known. Despite the devastation, there has been great success in controlling HIV, particularly in Australia.

The Burnet Institute reflected on the global response to HIV and AIDS at a special function held at Parliament House. Guest speakers included the Federal Minster for Health, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP, Senator the Hon Christine Milne and long time Burnet supporter and leading Australian philanthropist Mr Harold Mitchell AC.

All three praised Burnet’s contribution to health and medical research as well as highlighting the significance of the International AIDS Society’s Conference in Melbourne next year, AIDS 2014, of which the Institute’s Co-Head of the Centre for Biomedical Research, Professor Sharon Lewin is Local Co-chair.

(Senator Christine Milne praised Burnet’s HIV/AIDS research and work. Photo credit: Leigh Atkinson, Imagemakers.)

Ms Plibersek opened her speech by reading a special message from Prime Minister Julia Gillard.

“The discovery of HIV signalled one of the most significant threats to public health in our lifetimes. Thirty years on, this anniversary is an occasion to reflect on the extraordinary response of humankind and to recognise the challenge that remains.” See right to download the Prime Minister’s message in full.

Ms Plibersek spoke about Burnet’s Professor Sharon Lewin’s quest for a cure and how much Australia has achieved in the years since HIV was discovered.

“We remain a committed global actor in the fight against HIV/AIDS, particularly in developing countries, for example in Myanmar we have distributed more than 59 million condoms and 13 million needles to prevent HIV infection,” Ms Plibersek said.

“At home, our response is recognised internationally as being a global leader and our prevalence is still low compared with other similar countries….but we cannot allow people to think getting HIV is not the problem it once was and they can relax their safe sex practices.

Federal Minister for Health, the Hon Tanya Plibersek MP with Professor Brendan Crabb. Photo credit: Leigh Atkinson, Imagemakers.

Burnet Institute Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb said the Burnet Institute has made a significant contribution to the HIV and AIDS research field in its 27-year history.

“At Burnet we are tackling HIV head-on, working in the laboratory to develop a vaccine and to find a cure for the disease while our public health programs are focused on education and prevention in Australia and overseas,” Professor Crabb said.

“We have made significant progress in other areas such as diagnostics, drug treatment, HIV latency, antiretroviral drug toxicity and microbicides for HIV prevention.

“Australian scientists are at the cutting-edge of HIV research and more than ever we need on-going financial support from the Federal Government and from the community to achieve a 30-year quest to find a cure. Without an increased commitment in funding the significant progress towards finding a cure will stall.”

(Simon Crean MP with Trevor Kennedy AM, Burnet Board member Natasha Stott Despoja AM and Burnet Director and CEO, Professor Brendan Crabb. Photo credit: Leigh Atkinson, Imagemakers.)

One of the incredible successes in Burnet’s HIV work is the VISITECT® CD4 test developed by the Institute’s Deputy Director, Associate Professor David Anderson, Associate Director, Professor Suzanne Crowe AM and Senior development scientist, Ms Mary Garcia.

It’s an affordable point-of-care test aimed at reaching HIV patients around the world who are not receiving treatment because they lack access to laboratory-based CD4 tests. Preparations are being made for the manufacture of millions of VISITECT® CD4 tests but in the short-term, thousands of the tests are being finalised for field validation studies about to get underway in sub-Saharan Africa, India and Papua New Guinea.

“It’s easy to diagnose HIV but it’s hard to identify those who need therapy. Our test will change that, providing cost-effective testing for up to 34 million patients worldwide,” Associate Professor Anderson said.

(Burnet’s VISITECT® CD4 test is now in production and will be tested in the field later this year).

Contact Details

For more information in relation to this news article, please contact:

Paul Rathbone

Executive General Manager, Public Affairs & External Relations




[email protected]

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