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‘Architect’ of Australia’s battle against HIV has passed away

‘Architect’ of Australia’s battle against HIV has passed away

David Cooper headshot. He's wearing a maroon blazer with black framed glasses, the city of sydney is in the background

One of the people often credited as the ‘architect’ of the HIV epidemic in Australia has passed away.

Scientia Professor David Cooper AO died on Sunday (18 March) after a short illness.

Cooper diagnosed some of the first HIV cases in Australia. He became known as an architect for Australia’s response to the epidemic – that would later become a world-leading response.

He was the first director of the Kirby Institute, founded in 1986 that was first known as the National Centre in HIV Epidemiology and Clinical Research.

‘David’s importance as a clinician scientist in the field of infectious diseases cannot be overstated,’ said Professor Tony Kelleher, the Acting Dean of UNSW Medicine and head of the Kirby Institute’s Immunovirology and Pathogenesis Program.

‘He contributed to the development of every therapeutic drug used in HIV.  All over the world he was respected as a leader,  and at home he was an insightful colleague and unparalleled mentor.’

Cooper recognized patterns of diagnosis in Sydney amongst gay men. He enrolled a number of young men into Australia’s first clinical HIV research studies.

The results led to the first description anywhere in the world of the so-called ‘seroconversion illness’. Seroconversion defines initial HIV infection in many people.

He recognized stigma was a massive barrier to people getting tested and accessing treatment. Cooper also turned his attention to ending HIV in developing countries.

Cooper’s huge heart

His close friend and Australia’s first openly gay High Court judge, Michael Kirby paid tribute to Cooper. Kirby credited Cooper’s ‘huge intellect and a huge heart’.

‘It was his intellect that made him a leader in the global response to the AIDS epidemic and led to the building of the Kirby Institute,’ Kirby said.

‘But it was his great heart that all who knew him, his family, his colleagues and his patients, could witness every day.

‘We will miss him terribly and be all too aware of his absence.’

PrEP trial

Cooper and the Kirby Institute developed the ‘overwhelmingly successful’ clinical trial of PrEP in the state of New South Wales.

EPIC-NSW, is the world’s largest clinical trial of pre-exposure prophylaxis, a daily pill that prevents the transmission of HIV.

NSW LGBTI health organization, ACON, worked closely with Cooper since its inception in 1985.

‘David’s contribution to the health and wellbeing of people affected by HIV and LGBTI people has been immeasurable,’ said ACON president, Justin Koonin.

‘We have all benefitted from his uncompromising principles and integrity, his passion, his fierce intelligence and intellect, his pioneering spirit and his compassion.’