Melbourne: Australia's top scientists and health experts have declared that AIDS is no longer a public health issue in the country.
The number of AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) cases diagnosed now is so low that researchers from the Australian Federation of AIDS Organisations (AFAO), Melbourne's Peter Doherty Institute and New South Wales' Kirby Institute, have announced that the syndrome in Australia is now "over", Xinhua news agency reported.
AIDS cases in Australia have dropped significantly since the introduction of anti-retroviral medications in the mid-1990s, which stops HIV from advancing to AIDS - where the immune system is so badly damaged that it cannot fight off the infection.
The infection is contracted when a person has bodily fluids (usually through unprotected sex or by sharing needles/syringes) passed into their bloodstream. At the peak of the epidemic through the 1980s and 1990s, AIDS killed about 1,000 people each year.
Professor Sharon Lewin, director of the Peter Doherty Institute in Melbourne, told the Australian Broadcasting Corporation (ABC) on Monday that anti-retroviral drugs had been the key to the epidemic's decline, allowing people with HIV to live a long and healthy life.
"I've actually seen a dramatic transformation of HIV from a universal death sentence to now a chronic, manageable disease," Lewin said.
AFAO CEO Darryl O'Donnell said the number of AIDS-related deaths in Australia was now so low that it was not recorded.
"AIDS is over in the way we knew it. We've got access to treatment that has had extraordinary effect, and community activism since the very early years of AIDS in the '80s and '90s has helped the efforts to fight it," O'Donnell said.
However, despite researchers announcing the remarkable progress with the syndrome, they said the end of AIDS did not spell the end of HIV.
According to the ABC, 1,000 new cases of HIV are reported in Australia each year.
AIDS advocates will now target the 35 million people around the globe who are living with HIV, particularly those countries the Asia-Pacific region, where 180,000 cases of AIDS and 1.2 million cases of HIV are reported each year.