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Friday, 6 December 1985
Page: 3172


Senator ELSTOB —Has the Minister representing the Minister for Health seen a recent report that there are some thousands of serious acquired immune deficiency syndrome cases throughout the country? Can the Minister say whether the rate of this disease is increasing in Australia in the way it has in the United States? Does the Government accept Professor Penington's claim that AIDS can be spread by contact with saliva during deep kissing? When will a comprehensive educational program be in place so that hysteria associated with this disease can be avoided?


Senator GRIMES —I did see the article in the Australian which referred to comments by Professor Penington. Professor Penington referred to the fact that for something like 12 months or so we have known that the AIDS virus has been found in the saliva of a percentage of those suffering from AIDS and, therefore, obviously it can be transmitted in that way, although, in view of the difficulty of transmission generally, it is only likely to occur if there are other lesions in the mouth of one or other of the people who are indulging in the kissing.

I think it is important to remember that Professor Penington at the same time pointed out that the transmission and the epidemiological details of AIDS as it has developed so far certainly do not indicate that it is spread in the same way as other diseases which are well known to be spread by kissing, such as glandular fever and infected mononeucleosis.

As for the first part of Senator Elstob's question, the increase in the number of cases of AIDS in Australia is less than was anticipated when AIDS was first detected here. The figures that were used then were based on the increase in the number of cases in the United States, but there has been a lower rate of increase than was anticipated. I think from memory, it was anticipated that by the end of next year there would be 600 cases; there will probably be about 400 cases. This could be due to a blip in the statistics or it could also be due to the fact that we do not have the extent of transmission that there is in America, particularly in the eastern States, from intravenous drug users.

Our health authorities, both State and Federal, were fortunate enough to become aware of the potential epidemic very early in the piece, unlike those in the United States. The measures that have been taken in Australia, with the co-operation of the gay community and the medical community and with the considerable co-operation between State and Federal governments, and the measures taken to ensure as much as possible that AIDS is not transmitted through blood transfusions, are likely to be the reason why the spread has not been as great as perhaps was anticipated.

I would have thought that the efforts of the committees headed by Professor Penington and Ms Ita Buttrose, in providing education to the communities that are most likely to be affected and to the general community, and the responsible attitudes of most of the Press and the politicians in this community have resulted in a consistent lack of hysteria which has surrounded the publicity of this disease in, say, the United States and Europe. I hope that this situation continues.

I have said before in this place that I think everyone, except a few silly people, firmly believes that as this is a public health problem it should be treated as a public health problem, not as some visitation from on high. We will always have the Reverend Niles, Betty Hockings and others who will try to stir up hysteria about this, but I have a belief in the general good sense of the Australian people and the Australian media in this regard. Therefore, I believe that the education and health campaigns that we have conducted will result in containing this very serious epidemic as much as it can be, so that in future, at a time when more effective preventative and treatment measures are developed, we will be in a very good position in this country to cope with this disease-in a much better position than some other countries.