Monthly Archives: February 2019

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The Grim Reaper died in the 80s: Time for a new approach to HIV?

By Jennifer Power, La Trobe University

The Grim Reaper television commercial is infamous in Australia.

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Reminiscent of B-grade gothic horror flicks, the cloaked reaper stands in a foggy bowling alley poised to strike down a group of deadpan, but “ordinary” looking, people. As the people are bowled down, a voice booms, “at first only gays and IV drug users were being killed by AIDS, but now we know every one of us could be devastated by it”.

The Grim Reaper appeared on Australian television in April 1987. It was a phenomenal marketing success. Some 25 years on, just about everyone who saw it remembers it. In my mind, the Grim Reaper was part of pre-bedtime viewing throughout my childhood. In reality, the ad ran for less than three weeks. I probably watched it only a handful of times.

The Grim Reaper has come to symbolise HIV/AIDS in Australia. It captured the fear and uncertainty of a time when people were not sure what would happen with this virus. It wasn’t clear how large the epidemic might grow in Australia; there was certainly no sign of a cure and available treatments at the time were not particularly effective.

The Grim Reaper campaign was not without controversy. In some communities, gay men came to be associated with the Grim Reaper and were seen as a threat to the community, rather than being victims of the disease.

The campaign was immensely effective at drawing attention to HIV/AIDS. Politically this was important. The Commonwealth government had directed a lot of funds toward HIV prevention and, although the Grim Reaper was not devised as a political tool, the response to it justified this spending.

The Queensland government has decided to resurrect the Grim Reaper imagery in a soon-to-be-screened television campaign designed to inform Queenslanders that HIV infection rates are again on the rise. The ad features an actor dressed as the Grim Reaper costume while the voice-over laments, “we shouldn’t be having this conversation”.

The Annual Surveillance Report indicates that in 2010 Queensland recorded its highest ever rate of new HIV infections, having more than doubled in the past decade, from 2.8 per 100,000 people in 2001 to 5.4 in 2010.

The Queensland government has responded to this with a new HIV strategy, beginning with the Reaper ad. But at the same time, it has withdrawn funding from the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities (QAHC, the former Queensland AIDS Council) – the very organisation that leads HIV prevention targeting gay men in Queensland.

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In Australia, the vast majority of HIV transmission occurs between men who have sex with men. This has always been the case. While heterosexual transmission accounts for several hundred new diagnoses each year, a large proportion of these occur among people who have come to Australia from high-prevalence countries, or whose partner does.

A population-based HIV prevention campaign makes no sense if the flip side includes withdrawing funding to the organisation that targets people most at risk.

The government argues that de-funding QAHC was a response to rising HIV rates — evidence of QAHC’s lack of effectiveness — not an anti-gay agenda. But it would be a concern if HIV prevention in Queensland was to become more conservative, with little acknowledgement of the needs or interests of gay men.

Australia is known as a world leader in HIV prevention largely because the federal government at the time had the foresight to see that community-led organisations such as QAHC were best placed to deliver targeted HIV prevention campaigns to the communities most at risk.

Alongside this, state and federal governments (for the most part) have resisted heavy censoring of safer-sex messages. Health educators have been able to talk openly about sex and produce sex-positive education campaigns. This has been more effective — particularly with lesbian and gay communities — than conservative or morally-driven strategies, such as abstinence education.

The Grim Reaper campaign worked at the time because of its shock value, and because it was accompanied by funding for targeted, community-led prevention campaigns.

The recent rise in HIV rates has occurred in a very different context. A complex combination of issues are contributing to increasing HIV infections, including “safe-sex fatigue” or people’s lowered perception of “risk” in an era where anti-viral treatments are so effective.

The Queensland government may have some success in putting HIV/AIDS back on the public agenda. But debate alone will not curtail HIV infections. What’s needed now are sophisticated prevention campaigns, driven by people and organisations, such as QAHC, that understand the complexities of HIV transmission patterns in Australia at this point in history.

Jennifer Power currently works on project funded by the Australian Research Council, VicHealth, Relationships Australia (National and Victoria) and ACON. In kind (non-monetary contribution) partners on this project include the Queensland Association for Healthy Communities and Gay and Lesbian Health Victoria.

Fyfe stars as Dockers down Crows

Fremantle midfielder Nat Fyfe put on a five-star performance as Adelaide’s finals hopes went up in smoke in Saturday night’s AFL clash at Patersons Stadium.

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Fyfe booted four goals from 29 possessions to inspire Fremantle to the 22-point win – 11.9 (75) to 7.11 (53).

In an added blow for the Crows, forward Josh Jenkins was stretchered off in the final quarter with what appeared to be a serious ankle injury.

Jenkins was left writhing in pain after his ankle twisted at a bad ankle after he landed awkwardly following a marking contest.

Fellow big man Shaun McKernan was also left nursing an ankle injury and was subbed out at three-quarter time.

The defeat means Adelaide (7-10) will end the round at least two wins and percentage adrift of eighth spot.

That gap will be three wins if Port Adelaide beats Brisbane on Sunday.

Adelaide enjoy a soft run home with games against Port Adelaide, North Melbourne (home), Bulldogs (away), Melbourne (home) and West Coast (away).

But they will need to win all of them and rely on other results to fall their way if they are to scrape into the top-eight.

Adelaide only had themselves to blame for the loss.

They won the inside-50m count 45-33, had more tackles, more disposals, and won the clearances 34-25.

But their return of 3.8 from set shots was their undoing.

Fremantle’s 12th win of the season brought them back to within percentage of fourth spot, although Sydney can extend that gap with a win over Richmond on Sunday.

Fyfe was simply sensational throughout the match, with the 21-year-old particularly important when Adelaide threatened to take the lead in the third quarter.

The Dockers led by 23 points at half-time, but saw that advantage whittled down to five points on the back of an inspired performance from Crows midfielder Rory Sloane, who tallied 10 disposals in the third term.

However, Fyfe was up to the challenge, booting two crucial goals late in the quarter to give Fremantle vital breathing space.

Sloane finished with 30 possessions and seven clearances, but it was Fyfe who snared the honours as best afield.

Dockers defender Michael Johnson was also important in the win, while midfielders Michael Barlow and Stephen Hill also played their part.

Crows midfielder Bernie Vince was counting his lucky stars after escaping with just a minor cut despite copping a knee to the head while running back with the flight of the ball.

Dockers tagger Ryan Crowley restricted Richard Douglas to just 16 possessions in the absence of star Crows midfielder Patrick Dangerfield (shoulder).

Jenkins was sent to hospital for scans to determine whether he’d broken either his ankle or leg.

Adelaide coach Brenton Sanderson conceded his team’s wayward kicking for goal cost them dearly.

“They weren’t really hard shots either. That’s the thing that was most disappointing,” Sanderson said.

“Fremantle won the game, but you shouldn’t win a game when you have 33 inside 50s.”

Dockers coach Ross Lyon thought his team made the most of their chances.

“I thought we counter-punched them really well,” Lyon said.

“Both teams had a number of players back all night, so it was whoever used the ball best would be able to find targets inside 50.”

Indian opinions towards Australia warm: study

The Lowy Institute and Australia-India Institute opinion poll shows 75 percent of those surveyed believe Australia is a good place to be educated, ranking second only to the United States.

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A further 60 percent of the 1233 adult respondents also said they would like India’s government and society to be more like Australia’s.

Overall, Indians ranked Australia among the top four countries they felt closest to, with the United States, Japan and Singapore taking out the top three.

“It reveals that ordinary Indians quite like Australia despite all the trouble that’s happened,” said the study’s co-author and Director of the Lowy Institute, Professor Rory Medcalf.

“All the trouble” refers to series of much-publicised attacks on Indian students, studying in Australia, in 2009 and 2010. And these events have still left their mark on Indians’ opinions of Australia.

The poll found 62 percent of Indians still considered Australia a dangerous place for students, and 61 percent also felt the attacks were racially motivated.

“There’s still some fragility in the relationship and if there was another crisis it wouldn’t take much to raise these ghosts about racism and danger,” said Professor Medcalf.

According to Professor Medcalf, the main difference between Australia-India relations now, compared to five years ago, is that “champions of the relationship” have emerged.

The poll also found Indians wouldn’t be nearly as interested in Australia if it weren’t for the countries’ mutual love of cricket.

Three-quarters of those surveyed said the game projected a positive image of Australia and helped the countries grow closer.

“It shows the Australian cricket team is still good for one thing, and that is projecting a positive image of Australia in India.”

Aust science prepares for pandemic

Australian researchers are joining forces with scientists overseas to prepare for the next human pandemic.

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A new SARS-like virus has emerged in the Middle East and killed 45 people, and in China a new strain of bird flu is killing people instead of chickens.

CSIRO Biosecurity Flagship Director Gary Fitt will tell Australia’s leading biosecurity researchers on Thursday recent global events highlight the need to ramp up research into viruses that spread from animals to humans.

“We now know that 70 per cent of new diseases in people have originated in animals,” he says in a statement.

“We are lucky to have a strong biosecurity system, backed by world-class science, but we live in an increasingly connected world with trade and people movements putting us at greater risk.”

He says CSIRO and Duke-NUS (an alliance between Duke University in the US and the National University of Singapore) have signed a relationship agreement with a view to forming an International Collaborative Centre for One Health.

That $20 million partnership would take a new approach to tackling these deadly viruses, he says.

The virus in the Middle East has already killed 45 of 82 people infected since September 2012. Dr Fitt says it is still unknown how the new strain in China of the highly pathogenic bird flu, known as H7N92, is spreading undetected.

CSIRO Science Leader and Director of the Program in Emerging Infectious Diseases at Duke-NUS, Linfa Wang, says responding to the emerging threats needs a new approach that integrates medical, veterinary, ecological and environmental research.

“Bringing all of these disciplines together to develop a One Health approach rather than working independently is what our new international partnership is all about,” he said in a statement.

They are already combining CSIRO’s world-leading bat virology research with Duke-NUS medical expertise in the development of new and more effective methods for the discovery, treatment, prevention and control of new and emerging diseases in people.

Ricciardo given Red Bull warning

Toro Rosso team principal Franz Tost has warned Daniel Ricciardo to be prepared for “a rough ride” should he become Sebastian Vettel’s new teammate at Red Bull.

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Ricciardo is firmly in the running to fill the void to be left by Mark Webber when his fellow Australian retires from Formula One at the end of this season, alongside Lotus’ Kimi Raikkonen.

Although Tost is convinced Ricciardo has the talent to succeed, he also feels such a move would come “early” given the 24-year-old’s lack of success to date.

Overall, however, Tost claims Ricciardo – or any new teammate – “has to bring a lot to the table” if he is to compete with Vettel.

“Let’s have a look at Seb: he’s a three-time champion – at least per today – which indicates his huge talent,” said Tost, speaking to the official Formula One website.

“He’s extremely disciplined; he’s a sharp technical understanding – probably one of the best in the paddock; he can fight ferociously – he’s proven that time and again, and he is established in a winning team that he has built up with.

“Remember, when Seb left Toro Rosso to join Red Bull Racing the team was in no way the winner that it is today. Seb has contributed a lot to make it happen.

“So if you want to be the new kid on the block you better have all these facts in mind and show even more commitment to come at least close to Seb. That will be a rough ride.”

If Ricciardo does get the nod, with an announcement expected at the end of this month or early next, Tost will urge him to “prepare mentally” up until finally going head to head with Vettel next year.

Asked as to how Ricciardo would achieve that, Tost added: “That in the second half of the season he is inhaling that amount of self-confidence that he needs to survive in a team like Red Bull Racing.

“A simple example: if the car is not perfect, you override it and don’t lament. You work with what you’ve got as what you got is probably down to your own mistake – so go out and fight.

“You start to understand all the others are also putting on their pants one leg at a time – even a Sebastian Vettel.

“That he is moving over with a high fighting spirit and not settling for a passive role. Our talks move alongside these topics.”