The Man Determined to End HIV in WA

Cipriano (Cipri) Martinez currently advocates for fairer workplaces but his career in advocacy started over 20 years ago in a very different field. 

After his HIV diagnosis in 1993, Cipri Became heavily involved with promoting HIV prevention, early and sustained access to treatments, support, and innovation for HIV cure research. 

Now, as President of the National Association of People Living with HIV, he has recently returned from the United Nations in New York, where he was an advisor to the Australian Government at the ‘2016 High Level Meeting on Ending AIDS’.

Recently some media reported the epidemic of AIDS was over in Australia. And although the quality and longevity of life for people living with HIV has dramatically improved, Australia still has 25,000 people living with HIV. Shockingly, PBS data suggests only 15,000 maybe on treatment - although some states dispute those numbers, saying they are much higher. With successful uptake of HIV medication people become undetectable, un-infectious.

Cipri says the biggest challenge at the moment is making sure people get the right treatment early.

“When we talk about early HIV combination prevention we mean; tailored prevention methods to the individual like, condom use and Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis or PrEP, which is essentially the ‘before’ pill.”

Currently the drug Truvada is what Doctors can prescribe and, if taken daily, will prevent infection 99% of the time.

Of course, life cannot always be perfectly planned.

“Also you can present to a tertiary health department within 48-hours of a risk exposure and they can provide you with a 30-day course of HIV medication known as PEP or the ‘after’ pill.

“Because the virus’ life span is only two days; with PEP you can prevent HIV from establishing itself.”

But these advances are of little help if the communities they have been developed for don’t know they exist.

“The difficulty we have in the HIV sector is some of the modern prevention messages are t more complex and nuanced.

“Public health messages are often simple like “use condoms every time”. These drug preventions are effective and work - but they’re not so easy to put on a billboard.”

“So what you actually need is a greater grassroots community education and engagement response that’s tailored to specific at risk populations.”

But Cipri says the real opportunity in Western Australia hasn’t been fully exploited yet.

With our small population and isolation, researchers from the Kirby Institute at the University of NSW, believe that via the use of the drug Truvada for PrEP, heard immunity can be created for the most at risk group, gay men.

“We would only need to put 1100 of our most active at risk gay men on PrEP to create this herd immunity in Western Australia.”

And the cost?

“Cheap! Super cheap!”

At an estimated average of $500 a year for PrEP, a cost many of the men could afford themselves, there is the potential to create herd immunity among gay men for around $250,000. And with Perth’s M-Clinic seeing nearly 3000 gay men a year – the roll out and monitoring of this group would also be possible.

“I think the peak bodies need to re-orientate what services they provide to create this heard immunity.

“Because we are so isolated, we have the capacity to create HIV herd immunity before anyone else in the world,” Cipri said. 

And that’s an incredible prospect.