Because the epidemic is not over…

The headline of the 1998/1999 Annual Report, ‘Because the epidemic is not over’, was a timely reminder to the gay and wider community that, despite the leaps and bounds made in HIV/AIDS research and treatment development over the last few years, there was still a lot of work to be done in terms of treating HIV and caring for PLWHAs. Deaths from HIV/AIDS had decreased dramatically and PLWHAs were living longer and, for the most part, healthier lives. But this in itself brought added complications. Many PLWHAs never expected to live more than a few years after their diagnosis, and had dramatically changed their lifestyles accordingly – quitting jobs, dropping out of university, accessing superannuation and spending money they never envisaged needing later. Aside from the psychological and emotional challenges they now faced with the prospect of increased longevity, many also had financial problems. The gruelling drug regimen meant that for many PLWHAs, returning to work was not yet an option. They needed and were accessing the services provided by the VAC/GMHC, PLC and other HIV/AIDS support organisations for longer. ‘While many people are experiencing increased life expectancy’, wrote President Joseph O’Reilly in 1999, ‘there are a significant number of people who are not reaping the benefits of improved combination therapies. Chronic issues of poverty, isolation, depression, treatments and housing have emerged as the most significant, affecting many of our clients’.41

But the advent of a new millennium brought with it a new face to the VAC/GMHC and one that would lead the organisation forward, united and positive. Mike Kennedy became Executive Director of the VAC/GMHC in July 1999, bringing with him more than ten years of active involvement in the HIV/AIDS epidemic in Australia. His enthusiasm and experience added the final cohesive touch to the organisational restructure, fostering friendlier relations between the VAC/GMHC and PLWHA Victoria and ensuring that the wider community knew that, despite great progress in the development of medical treatment, the HIV/AIDS epidemic was far from over.