The Hon Jillian Skinner receives highest UNSW honour for leadership on HIV

News | Published on 31 May 2022

Former NSW Minister for Health, The Honourable Jillian Skinner, was awarded a Doctor of Medical Science, honoris causa, for her leadership and service to elimination of HIV transmission in NSW, and Australia more broadly.

At the UNSW Medicine & Health graduation ceremony on Monday 9 May, the honorary degree was conferred by UNSW Chancellor David Gonski AC. UNSW Vice-Chancellor and President, Professor Attila Brungs, read the citation.

In the conferral, Mr Gonski paid tribute to Dr Skinner’s service to health, describing her as a “’can-do’ health minister,” and stated that the University is “very proud to be associated with her”.

Jillian Skinner giving an address to the future students

Dr Skinner has a longstanding relationship with the Kirby Institute at UNSW. As NSW Minister for Health, and the first standalone Minister for Medical Research (2011-2017), she officially opened the Kirby Institute when it relocated to the Wallace Wurth Building on the UNSW Kensington campus in 2012. She is widely recognised as having implemented transformative policies and programs in a number of areas, the most prominent being in the control of HIV infection.

Professor Andrew Grulich has worked closely with Dr Skinner since her time as Minster for Health, especially through his role as co-lead on the EPIC-NSW trial, which was one of the world’s largest implementation trials of PrEP, the HIV prevention medication and saw substantial reductions in HIV transmissions state-wide over the study’s three year period. Thanks in large part to the study, PrEP was listed on the Australian Pharmaceutical Benefits Scheme in 2018, making it available at a subsidised price nationally, and resulting in continued reductions in HIV transmission.

“EPIC-NSW truly changed the landscape of HIV prevention in Australia,” said Prof Grulich. “The trial was a perfect example of the real-world results that can be achieved through cross-sector collaboration. I know that our community partners at ACON will agree that thanks to Jillian’s leadership, the world is watching how NSW does HIV prevention, and we are at the absolute forefront of efforts towards the elimination of HIV transmission.”

Nicolas Parkhill (ACON), Adj. Prof. Bill Bowtell, The Hon Dr Jillian Skinner, Justin Koonin (ACON), Prof. Andrew Grulich (Kirby Institute)From left: Nicolas Parkhill (ACON), Adj. Prof. Bill Bowtell, The Hon Dr Jillian Skinner, Justin Koonin (ACON), Prof. Andrew Grulich (Kirby Institute)

Dr Skinner reflected on the significant strides made in NSW towards elimination of HIV transmission in the occasional address she gave to the Medicine & Health graduates, and her pride in the contributions she made. 

“Throughout my working life I’ve always been attracted to finding solutions to enduring problems, and satisfaction when consequent policies prove to have made a difference,” she said. She recalled “putting her political neck on the block” in the NSW parliament in 2012 to deliver the first NSW HIV Strategy, stating her bold ambition to end the transmission of HIV, and remembered being “stunned when many members of parliament, even the most conservative politicians, rose to their feet and applauded this statement.”

Commenting on a recent Sydney Morning Herald article, in which Prof Grulich said that NSW is on track to eliminate HIV transmission by 2030, Dr Skinner said that it was a milestone that made her “spine tingle”, and her wish for the graduates is that they make the most of their opportunities to experience that same satisfaction.

Dr Skinner also shared with the graduates some principles that she carried through her career and time as Minister, including a passion for the job, clear communication, ambitious vision, and the importance of collaboration.

She paid tribute to her family and the many partnerships, both within the NSW Government, and more broadly, who have all contributed to her legacy of progressing towards elimination of HIV transmission in NSW and Australia, and the many other health initiatives she advocated for as Minister, and continues to advocate for. Joining her family, Dr Skinner’s guests included: NSW Health Secretary Susan Pearce and former Secretary Elizabeth Koff; ACON CEO Nicolas Parkhill and Chair Justin Koonin; Chris Puplick and Adjunct Professor Bill Bowtell, who helped develop the NSW HIV Strategy; Chair of South East Sydney Local Health District Michael Still; CEO of the Children’s Cancer Institute Professor Michelle Haber and CEO of the Kid’s Cancer Centre at the Sydney Children’s Hospital, Professor Tracey O’Brien.

Kirby Institute Director Professor Anthony Kelleher, who nominated Dr Skinner for the award, said that her leadership has had a lasting impact on HIV prevention and transmission in NSW and Australia. “Jillian’s leadership, as well as her commitment to evidence and community consultation, is unparalleled. She’s made a significant and lasting positive impact on the landscape of HIV prevention in NSW and Australia, and as a former Minister for Health, it is an exceptional legacy to have contributed to the virtual elimination of HIV in the state through courageous decisions driven by consultation, implemented via collaboration, resulting in good policy. To receive an honorary Doctor of Medical Science from UNSW is a very fitting acknowledgement of Jillian’s contribution to health.”

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From left: Professor Vlado Perkovic (Dean, UNSW Medicine & Health), The Honourable Jillian Skinner, Mr David Gonski (Chancellor, UNSW Sydney), Professor Attila Brungs (Vice-Chancellor and President, UNSW Sydney). Image credit: UNSW