States link their arms in war on AIDS

The Herald (Melbourne), 19 July 1983, p 11:

PERTH. — Plans to co-ordinate research into the Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome (AIDS) on a national scale will be formulated in Perth by Australia’s leading immunologists.

Their meeting to discuss these plans will be held on Saturday and will be followed by a public meeting on Sunday, at which an announcement about the research is expected.

The meeting is sponsored by the newly-formed Immunogenetics Research Foundation, of which the Premier, Mr Burke, has agreed to be patron.

Some research has been initiated in Perth with the screening of about 26 homosexuals who volunteered for periodic tests relating to the functioning of their immune system, their particular risk factors and any infections they developed.

The research is being undertaken by the Royal Perth Hospital’s department of clinical immunology under the leadership of Professor Roger Dawkins.

He said valuable data was being gathered.

“We are collecting information on healthy homosexuals and we will be observing what happens to their immune system over time,” he said.

“We have developed theories on factors which might precipitate immune deficiency, which we are testing now.

“If such a man was, for example, taking so-called recreational drugs and we had laboratory evidence of immuno deficiency, we would be looking to see if the immuno deficiency disappeared if he stopped using such drugs.

RESPONSIBLE

Prof. Dawkins said homosexuals In Perth were being very responsible in recognising the problem and in asking for something to be done.

He said the foundation had been established to help whatever happened to be a crucial question at the time.

“AIDS is one of those right now,” he said. “No-one else Is giving any money or doing anything at all at the moment.

“Following its normal process, funding from the National Health and Medical Research Council could not occur till 1985 — and we would hope there will be a very different question by then.”

More than $20 million was spent on AIDS research in the U.S. — about as much as the total amount spent by the NHMRC on all research.

Prof. Dawkins said the thrust of his department’s work was to identify immuno deficiency in its early stage.

He said about 100 inquiries had been received from worried people over the past month.

“Most of them have in mind there is a new virus which is inevitably coming to WA,” he said.

“They believe it can be brought in by U.S. ships or by travellers, and if they have had sexual contact with American sailors or they have been to the U.S., the fear is there that they may catch it.

“People should not assume there is a virus which is being transmitted from one person to another.

“It is caused through a breakdown in the individual’s immune system.

“We must discover why immuno deficiency is becoming more of a problem.”

LAUNDRY

Meanwhile, a union official claims Queensland faces the possible spread of AIDS and golden staph as a result of State Government plans to farm out hospital laundry to private contractors.

State secretary of the Australian Workers’ Union. Mr Errol Hodder, warned it was imperative for the Government to investigate the possibility of cross-infection.

Three suspected cases of AIDS have already been diagnosed in Queensland and the Government late last month designated it as a notifiable disease.

This means that any doctor who believes he is treating AIDS is legally obliged to report it to the Health Department.

A 43-year-old heterosexual AIDS sufferer died in Melbourne’s Prince Henry’s Hospital last week.

Mr Hodder said scientific evidence indicated there was a grave concern among microbiology experts about the threat of cross-infection from the processing and laundering of hospital linen.

RIFE

He said two hospitals in Brisbane — the Queen Elizabeth 2 Hospital and Redcliffe — were sending their laundry to private contractors and three others were closing their laundries.

He said golden staph was rife in Queensland hospitals.

“At the Cairns Base Hospitals, golden staph has been present for the past two years. There have been 30 new cases reported every month on average for the past two years.

“Under current government policy, the Cairns Hospital linen by the end of this year will be washed in a private laundry.”

Mr Hodder quoted a study by Dr Robin Pavillard, director of microbiology at the Royal Melbourne Hospital, in which Dr Pavlllard claimed laundries processing hospital linen should have the same cleanliness standards as an intensive care unit.

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