Andrew Burry: “We’ve never walked alone”

Andrew_Burry30 years ago when the Western Australian AIDS Council was incorporated, few would have imagined that three decades on there would still be no cure and no vaccine, or that new HIV diagnoses would be occurring at rates similar to those in the beginning.

How best to acknowledge this milestone in the WA AIDS Council’s journey presents something of a question for us. ‘Celebrating’ the continuing existence of our organisation, when so many have succumbed to AIDS along the way and many more continue to suffer personal and social impacts of HIV today could seem somewhat self-centred. At the same time, there is an importance in recognising the significant achievements that have been made, and to further recognise that we emerged from a time when people died of AIDS to a time when people are now able to live successfully with HIV. Indeed, we now live in times where ending HIV is a realistic goal; achievable within a single generation.

The arrival of effective antiretroviral treatments in the mid 1990’s was undoubtedly a significant turning point and so for two thirds of our history we have worked in a time of increasing hope.

In the context of Australia and the world, AIDS Councils around the country have represented a unique response to a public health emergency. Born in crisis, AIDS Councils were a collective response by affected communities and their supporters to mobilise resources and generate political will for action. In Australia, perhaps more than in any other part of the world, the early response was made effective by political courage in ensuring that the legislative environment was not a barrier to access to harm minimising resources and practices. Thus, we saw the rollout of national needle and syringe programs for example, implemented in WA by the WA AIDS Council.

If there is one single factor that has led to the relatively successful Australian response to HIV, it has been that partnership has been the bedrock upon which all of our work is based. We have worked from the beginning hand in hand with Government, clinicians, researchers and community. As with any partnership, there wasn’t always furious agreement.

To acknowledge our latest milestone, we think this is a crucial time to acknowledge the support of community in our work. The diverse communities living with HIV are always central in the development of our programs and resources. As the epidemic developed in WA, our council has adapted to the needs of new communities affected by HIV and our commitment to substantive equality and reconciliation action has never been more vital.

Looking back over 30 years and thinking about the years ahead means a time of recognising that we serve our communities and exist because we are supported by those same communities.

In reflection of this, we are planning a community event in October to thank all our communities, because it is with thanks to them that we have never walked alone.

Andrew Burry, CEO WA AIDS Council