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Day 1 ASHM HIV & AIDS Conference 2017 - Canberra
Day one, it's wet. Bring an umbrella. It is worthwhile to mention to the conference bag from SEW Conference bags, made by women in Tanzania living with HIV, they are made from recycled wheat flour sacks. It's a fair trade set up where employees are paid a fair wage, which is fantastic as well. They're pretty funky, I tried looking up their website but the domain expired a couple of weeks ago, so hoping it's only temporary.
First up is the Opening plenary with Martin Holt and Denise Kraus chairing.
Acknowledgement of the Ngunnawal people on whose lands we meet with a welcome to country by Wally Bell, a Ngunnuwal man. Wally reminds us that if you take care of the land, the land takes care of you. I can't agree more with that sentiment.
A welcome from the government from Senator Richard Di Natale was next with a reflective Senator considering his own previous work in public health and HIV prevention in India prior to his career in politics. Senator Di Natale then spoke to how Australia was once leading in many ways for it's response to the emergence of HIV, the care and dedication of healthcare workers and how early implementation of Needle Syringe Programs helped stem infection rates. However we have more work to do as a nation, with examples given specifically as the still anticipated approval by the PBAC for PrEP on the PBS and that of our collective position as a leader in our region from a funding and policy standpoint with ending HIV. A final sobering example was given; the disparity between the Indigenous population and non-Indigenous persons. Among other indicators, preventable disease being five times greater in the ATSI population compared to the people not of indigenous background remains a stark reminder that we have far to go.
The Acting CEO of ASHM Scott McGill followed with his opening remarks and paying respects to Levinia Crooks who recently passed, who will be sorely missed. Later, In memoriam of Levinia Crooks will be conducted by Edwina Wright at the end of this session.
Dr Bridget Haire, President of Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations AFAO also welcomed us with again further reminders that work is yet to be done across the nation, highlighting that "Best practice depends on where you live". City to country, we have large gaps within our reach as clinicians despite the hard work we all do. A few take home messages for me, that advances in the field of HIV treatment, prevention and screening are not always technology based (such as the advent of home testing), but community based programs can be of even greater significance. Also, that we need to ensure equitable action to ensure proper prevention, screening and treatment.
The last welcome of the morning was from Cipri Martinez, President of the National Association of People with HIV Australia (NAPWHA). The important news that undetectable viral loads in people living with HIV means it is sexually untransmissible. This still has not resonated across society and the stigma associated with HIV still remains, to quote "letting go of our fears and the modern reality of U equals U".
I will end this post with Cipri's last quote, "People deserve our care, and our best. Thank you for continuing to care and welcome to ASHM 2017".