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Monday, 1 December 2003
Page: 23290

Mr ORGAN (1:56 PM) —It is with some sadness that I rise today to acknowledge World AIDS Day. The Illawarra Mercury contains the story of Miss Celeste Couke, who nursed her partner through AIDS 13 years ago. She says:

I would have hoped that things have changed a lot since then. What surprises and horrifies me is that there's still a real stigma in the community. Having HIV is still creating problems in people's lives. People perceive it as potentially dangerous and there is no acceptance.

The statistics are staggering: 28 million people have died from HIV and the UN reports that a further three million will die this year. At least 40 million people are currently infected and 2.5 million of those are children. China and Africa are of particular concern. Kofi Annan refers to AIDS as a weapon of mass destruction. In Australia, HIV is on the increase. For the past 15 years the disease has been waning, but New South Wales and Queensland have this year reported increases in the number of people contracting HIV.

The federal government's response has been predictably backward and inadequate. The Minister for Health and Ageing recently horrified public health experts by urging abstinence over safe injecting and by refusing to advocate safe sex. Tough on Drugs is an inappropriate response to Australia's worsening HIV epidemic. As the minister himself said, diseases are to be treated, not judged. This government needs to wake up to itself and promote strategies such as safe sex, needle exchanges, injection rooms, expanded access to health services for the sick and adequate support for their carers.