Australia must re-energise its response to HIV/AIDS, not just rest on its laurels as an early leader, the 2004 ASHMAustralasian Society for HIV Medicine. The peak Australasian organisation representing the medical and health sector in HIV/AIDS and related areas. Conference was told in October.
Although Australia has a proud record of quickly responding to the emergence of AIDS in the 1980s, changing patterns of transmission, new treatments and a worsening epidemic in our region mean that innovative new approaches are needed.
Speaking at the opening ceremony in Canberra, High Court Justice Michael Kirby said that, despite 20 years of experience, stigma, discrimination and hatred continue to be major problems for people living with HIV/AIDS.
In a controversial speech, the internationally respected human rights advocate confessed to misgivings about the relevance of voluntary testing and counselling in every situation. When entire communities are threatened, and where stigma prevents people from coming forward for testing, an entirely voluntary approach allows some people’s infections to go undetected, he said.
Justice Kirby reinforced the need for strong leadership.
“From the very beginning,” Justice Kirby told the crowd, “HIV/AIDS has not been a matter of statistics or of theory. It has been a matter of close personal involvement.”
Australia had been fortunate to have its early response led by two “true princes in the art,” Neal Bluett and Michael Baume, he said, but “You cannot assume that lessons learned 20 years ago will continue to be learned.”
The global community finds itself at an “absolutely critical moment in the fight against HIV/AIDS,” Kirby said, and called on the conference participants to “lift out thoughts from our own struggles and see our struggle in the global context.”
Justice Kirby’s opening remarks set the tone for a conference which has increasingly focused on global and regional issues in recent years.
AFAOAustralian Federation of AIDS Organisations. AFAO is the peak non-government organisation representing Australia's community-based response to HIV/AIDS. AFAO's work includes education, policy, advocacy and international projects. President Dr Darren Russell warned that a revitalised and more robust response to HIV was desperately needed. “In the last few years it has become apparent that the federal government and some state governments have dropped the ball,” he said. The draft Fifth National Strategy “does virtually nothing” to change what Russell called a “business-as-usual response.”
In another session, Professor Dennis Altman of La Trobe University echoed Justice Kirby’s message, arguing that Australia’s approach to dealing with HIV/AIDS is flawed because it treats the Australian and overseas epidemics as separate issues. “You can’t think of it any longer as the Australian epidemic and then the rest of the world,” he said. “VirusesA small infective organism which is incapable of reproducing outside a host cell. don’t respect national boundaries.”
While Australian community HIV organisations were doing “extraordinary work,” Altman said that the government response to HIV/AIDS had become stale.
“I have never been as impressed or as proud of ASHM, AFAO and NAPWHA as when I see what, with limited resources, they are doing internationally,” he said, “But I don’t think we can any longer say that Australia is a model, I don’t think we can any longer claim that we are providing international leadership. I think that is tired rhetoric.”
‘Learn from your patients’
Professor Michael Kidd, the President of the Royal Australian College of General Practitioners, told the conference that the theme of the meeting — ?From policy to primary care” — should be reversed, that better HIV/AIDS policy would result from the experiences of general practitioners.
Kidd listed “12 lessons from general practice” which he said should be understood by policymakers. As well as delivering front-line treatment, GPs play a key role in HIV prevention, have a detailed and sophisticated understanding of the impact that HIV treatments have on individuals and communities, and have developed close partnerships with the HIV community, he said.
“Learn from your patients, and become a better doctor,” he told the audience.
David Menadue, vice-president of NAPWHA, argued that GPs need to be properly supported in the work that they do. “We can’t stand by and watch GPs move out of HIV care or new ones not come along because it’s not financially sustainable to run a high HIV case load practice,” he said.
Coordinated care models and special HIV practice grants are desperately needed for GPs to continue to do their work, Menadue said. Increasing numbers of positive people with complex needs mean that “the community can simply not do this work in volunteer mode any longer.”
Salvage[salvage therapy] A treatment strategy for managing HIV in people who have developed resistance to existing therapies. — just guess?
Dr Brian Gazzard of the Chelsea and Westminster Hospital in London gave an overview of approaches to salvage therapy in people with multiple treatment failure.
While salvage studies and increasing use resistanceHIV which has mutated and is less susceptible to the effects of one or more anti-HIV drugs is said to be resistant. testing were important, Gazzard said, most practitioners continued to base treatment decisions on educated guesswork. Referring to the GUESS study into resistance testing, Gazzard said “it’s not just an acronym but an activity, and for some it’s a way of life.”
There have been too few relevant trials into salvage therapy, Gazzard said, and too great a focus on lowering viral loadA measurement of the quantity of HIV RNA in the blood. Viral load blood test results are expressed as the number of copies (of HIV) per milliliter of blood plasma. rather than increasing CD4 counts. Multiple drug resistance, while it remains a problem in a small number of patients, is not the only reason for treatment failure, and researchers need to broaden their focus from looking only at resistance, he said.
Even in people with multiple resistance, Gazzard said that “treatment is better than no treatment,” adding that treatment interruptions were rarely helpful. ‘Maxi-HAARTHighly Active AntiRetroviral Therapy ??? aggressive treatment of HIV infection using several different drugs together.’ regimens, combining numerous different drugs, were promising, and useful even when the patient has resistance to some of the drugs in the combination, but side effects were a problem.
There is a need for new drugs with better resistance profiles, he said, but in the meantime the best approach to salvage is to avoid it by giving people better treatment in the first place.
Toxicities and treatments
Numerous presenters discussed their work in dealing with long-term treatment side effects. In an open-labelA clinical trial in which doctors and participants know which drug or vaccine is being administered. trial of polylactic acid (New-Fill) at the Alfred Hospital in Melbourne, Dr Anne Mijch and colleagues interviewed the 28 participants prior to starting treatment, and again after six months. While three-quarters experienced improvements in their facial appearance, several participants expressed a degree of disappointment with the outcome of this treatment. While New-Fill continues to show great promise, it needs to be stressed that the treatment cannot totally reverse facial fat loss, the authors said.
Dr Matthew Law presented a new analysis of the D:A:D cohortIn epidemiology, a group of individuals with some characteristics in common. A cohort study is a special kind of clinical trial which looks at a treatment or treatment strategy in a cohort of people., a large international study looking at cardiovascular disease risk in people with HIV which has found that the risk of a heart attackA life-threatening emergency in which the blood supply to the heart is suddenly cut off, causing the heart muscle (myocardium) to die from lack of oxygen. increases by about 26 percent for each year on treatment. The researchers applied existing risk models to the participants in the study, and found that the rate of heart attacks was only slightly higher than the rate predicted by existing risk factors. The authors believe that the increased number of heart attacks is not due to HIV treatment alone, but a flow-on effect from changes in existing risk factors (such as increased cholesterolAn essential component of cell membranes and nerve fibre insulation, cholesterol is important for the metabolism and transport of fatty acids and the production of hormones and Vitamin D. Cholesterol is manufactured by the liver, and is also present in certain foods. High blood cholesterol levels have been linked to heart disease and may be a side effect of some anti-HIV medications. and triglycerideA type of fat in the blood. Elevated triglyceride levels may be a side effect of some anti-HIV drugs. levels) as a result of treatment.