TRIBUTE TO PROFESSOR DAVID COOPER, AO - Senate Adjournment Speech, 21 March 2018
It is with deep regret and sadness that I rise to pay tribute to the late Professor David Cooper AO, who passed away last Sunday. I do so as someone with deep respect for David Cooper but also as deputy chair of the parliamentary liaison group for HIV-AIDS, blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted diseases. I share that respect with the chair of our committee, Senator Dean Smith. As an immunologist, Professor Cooper was an outstanding scientist and doctor. As a man, he was to many a wonderful friend, colleague and father.
It is his work at the Kirby Institute—in fact, it is the Kirby Institute itself—that is Professor Cooper's lasting impact. His contribution to the Kirby Institute at UNSW Sydney, to the health sector and human rights as well as to communities around the world affected by HIV and other infectious diseases was indeed extraordinary. Professor Cooper saved countless lives in Australia and all over the world. He dedicated his life to the prevention, treatment and cure of HIV and other infectious diseases and to the principles that health is a fundamental human right and that no-one would be turned away from the best options available for treatment and prevention, regardless of their social or personal circumstances. He turned Australia into a global leader in the fight against HIV-AIDS. He contributed to every therapeutic drug used in HIV.
David Cooper was one of the first Australian doctors to respond to the HIV epidemic when it hit Australia in the 1980s. The research that he published in The Lancet that decade led to the first description anywhere in the world of the so-called seroconversion illness, the first marker of HIV infection in many people.
In my role as deputy chair—along with the chair, Senator Dean Smith—of the parliamentary liaison group for HIV-AIDS, blood-borne viruses and sexually transmitted diseases, I was fortunate to visit and meet Professor Cooper. When I spent time with him in April 2016 whilst I was visiting the Kirby Institute in their cutting-edge laboratories in Sydney, he shared with me the innovative work that he and his passionate team were conducting in the pursuit of ending HIV, hepatitis C and other infections.
Under his leadership, the Kirby Institute developed from a national response centre with a handful of staff in the 1980s into a globally respected research institute today, employing more than 300 researchers working on the latest discoveries and innovations in HIV, viral hepatitis and sexually transmitted diseases. But his efforts took him further afield. In 1996, Professor Cooper helped to establish a research centre in Bangkok as a focal point for Asian countries facing increasing HIV rates, and until very recently he was overseeing large international clinical trials in Indonesia and Myanmar. His extraordinary achievements and contributions to communities around the world affected by HIV and other infectious diseases led to him being made an Officer in the General Division of the Order of Australia in 2003.
Professor Anthony Kelleher, the acting Dean of UNSW Medicine, wrote: 'It will be difficult to imagine our collaborative efforts without him at the lead, but the Kirby Institute is his legacy, and it is one which we are proud to carry on with David's dedication and vision.' I join Professor Kelleher and his incredible team at the Kirby Institute in sharing that pride that so many have for Professor David Cooper and all that he has achieved. To finish, I would like to quote his own approach to his great life:
It’s unusual in a medical career to see the evolution of a disease from its beginnings—to a disease that emerged as a global health catastrophe—to this point now, where medical research is bringing it under control. I feel valued to be involved in this work and to have been able to make a difference for so many people.
Vale, Professor David Cooper.