Many of the social and economic barriers that stand in the way of effective HIV prevention, treatment, support and care for people living with HIV are the same barriers that impede access to comprehensive sexual and reproductive health programs and services. In societies where cultural and gender norms tightly restrict the sexual and reproductive lives and choices of women and men, the risk for both unintended pregnancy and HIV infection is greatest.
The theme for World AIDS Day over the next three years will be "Getting to Zero: Zero new infections, Zero discrimination and Zero AIDS related deaths." This message is powerful, however if we are serious about making this a reality, then we need to start purposively tackling the challenges that have hindered our progress so far.
It is no coincidence that in countries and regions with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, women tend to have a lower position in society. But exactly what are the linkages between how women and girls are valued and their risk for HIV/AIDS? A significant factor is the ability to make choices. Women's lack of power relative to men gives them less bargaining power in negotiating the use of condoms to protect themselves. Poverty and lack of alternative options lead women to use survival strategies, including prostitution and exchange of sex for resources. To improve women's position in society and give them more control over their life choices, the perceived value of women and girls must change.
If the only image you have of Africa is that of a continent continually in a state of crisis, then you are severely mistaken. It is time Westerners stop characterizing Africa as a bottomless pit of despair, and a continent ridden in abject poverty. We can no longer afford to distort its reality with misconceived assumptions.
In sub-Saharan Africa, fewer than half of the people who need them have access to treatment medications. Children are still being born HIV positive. And their parents are still dying of the disease, leaving them to be raised by their aging and grieving grandmothers. These strong, resourceful women are literally saving the continent.
Sitane Diamini is no stranger to pain and hopelessness. Her album of family memories includes a scene at the local medical clinic in her home country of Swaziland, on the day when both she and her husband tested positive for HIV. Then she became pregnant. For someone reading this story 20 years ago, what happened next might have seemed nothing short of miraculous.
HIV positive individuals have an estimated 20-30 times greater risk of developing active TB than people without HIV infection. But, without an infusion of renewed global support, global mechanisms cannot scale up their activities to ensure that all people living with HIV are screened for TB, and all TB patients are provided HIV counselling and testing.
There are approximately 23.5-million people living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa. Without medication one in two children living with HIV/AIDS in the developing world will die before their second birthday. We have an opportunity now to change that. A new piece of legislation before Parliament -- Bill C-398 -- aims to cut the red tape.
Since 1996 we have developed better HIV medications and we live longer, fuller and healthier lives. People who are newly diagnosed and the young might not remember the endless funerals and whisperings about who was sick, who had committed suicide, or who had partied to death to escape the inevitable wasting and loss of personal strength and dignity. It's certainly a good thing that we have better medications, but the AIDS industry has become so dichotomized and disjointed that it is not recognizable from those early "grass roots" days, where everyday people did what they could with little resources and a whole lot of heart. The grass roots of HIV have withered and died.
In the lead up to World AIDS Day 2012 on December 1, Canada's Parliament has the chance to repair Canada's Access to Medicines Regime (CAMR) and finally get the job done. Members of Parliament must make the all-important decision to end partisan political squabbling and vote "yes" for Bill C-398, the bill that will fix CAMR once and for all. Millions of lives hang in the balance.
After we had photos taken together, I looked at Elton John and David Furnish and said "can you guys do me a favour?" I took my Sharpie pen off the side table and said "can you sign my back?" They both did and, while Elton was signing, he said "well that's a first." The proto-type of the book I am producing on the 25 year history of Fashion Cares was on display for pre-order sales at the dinner with Elton John. All of the proceeds will go to the AIDS Committee of Toronto and the Elton John Aids Foundation.
What relationship comes with a lifetime guarantee? So back in 1990, I was a man on a mission. I answered an ad from someone HIV-positive in Toronto looking for a serious relationship. Even today, people still have a reaction when you tell them you've dated an HIV-positive person. My friends were supportive of this relationship but my mother for years worried about my contacting HIV. Robert passed away a decade ago. Our relationship opened up a space in my heart that wasn't there before. Risking that initial date with fear taught me existence without love is as a lifeless as a corpse.