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Medical journal honours ‘Australia's fighter against HIV and discrimination’

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23 November 2016
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As it marks its 30th anniversary, the world-changing HIV research of UNSW’s Kirby Institute and its pioneering leader David Cooper has been acknowledged by the prestigious medical journal, The Lancet.

Describing UNSW Scientia Professor Cooper as ‘Australia's fighter against HIV and discrimination’ The Lancet profiles his more than 30-year-career dedicated to research into HIV epidemiology, treatment, and prevention in their latest edition.

At one Sydney Mardi Gras gay parade, my daughters and I went dressed as HIV antiretroviral pills, fighting against the epidemic.

“The story of HIV is a modern medical miracle," Cooper, who diagnosed some of Australia’s first cases in 1983, told the journal.

“From despair and tragedy, we have moved into an era of chronic treatable illness, in just 30 years,” he said.

The inaugural Director of the Kirby Institute recalled the many negative moments when he faced HIV-related discrimination head on. “Some colleagues would pull their hand back rather than shake mine, at the height of the HIV crisis,” Cooper said.  

"But my view has been, and will always be, that people deserve to be looked after, no matter how they get sick.”

He also told the journal how he also stood up to such attitudes outside medicine. “At one Sydney Mardi Gras gay parade, my daughters and I went dressed as HIV antiretroviral pills, fighting against the epidemic”, he said with a smile. “Events like this helped educate the public about the virus and reduce stigma.”

Sharon Lewin, Director of the Peter Doherty Institute at the University of Melbourne told The Lancet how Cooper’s work has helped transform Australia’s research landscape, establishing The Kirby Institute as a global leader in HIV trials.

“Over 30 years, David has created a national clinical trials network that has qualified Australia to participate in both domestic and international clinical trials, first for HIV and extended by the Kirby team to other conditions,” Professor Lewin said.

“This ensured that Australians have had early access to new treatments and helped ensure Australia quickly became an attractive country to carry out large scale multicentre strategy trials.”

In a separate piece, The Lancet highlighted other Kirby research leaders who are also making significant contributions to controlling infectious diseases, including UNSW Professors Greg Dore, Rebecca Guy and John Kaldor.

UNSW Deputy Vice-Chancellor Research Professor Nick Fisk said "this level of accolade is both highly unusual and thoroughly deserved".

"Congratulations to David and his entire team for this well-earned recognition." 

Read the complete profile by The Lancet on Professor Cooper and the research focus profile on The Kirby Institute and its other research leaders. 

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