Speaking at the recent Global Fund replenishment conference in Montreal, Mr. Trudeau touted that "Canada will continue to lead by example, and show the world what we can accomplish when we unite in pursuit of a larger goal." However, this declaration came at a time when HIV rates have been steadily rising across the country, people with HIV being criminalized for non-disclosure and underfunding for HIV organizations.
I was born on May 21st 1993 with H.I.V. In my world this was the scariest thing imaginable. Not the actual virus. I was fortunate enough to learn I could physically live a long relatively healthy life. The stigma has kept me forever afraid. But my disclosure saved my life. That's not the case for everybody and I think it's important we all have a choice. Whatever choice that is, let yourself be happy. Let yourself feel no shame. I am not living with H.I.V, H.I.V is living with me.
The fact that there are still approximately 2 million people around the world who receive an HIV-positive diagnosis each year only accentuates how important it is to scale-up proven combination prevention approaches. Equally important is the scale-up of investments to find a safe, effective and affordable vaccine and multi-purpose prevention technologies.
For the past three years World AIDS Day on December 1st has been themed, "Getting to zero," which means zero new HIV Infections, zero discrimination and zero AIDS-related deaths. Even with these promising new developments however, we cannot underestimate the challenges ahead in responding the AIDS epidemic. More than 71 thousand Canadians were estimated to be living with HIV in 2011 and there were 3,175 new HIV infections. Worldwide, there are a staggering 36 million people living with AIDS.
HIV infection is decidedly no longer a death sentence, and no longer a major inhibitor of quality of life. HIV-positive people can live long and healthy lives. For those with access to care, some sex educators now talk about HIV infection as more of a nuisance to be managed than than a life-altering diagnosis.
UNAIDS has embraced the ambitious goal of ending the AIDS by 2030, and this has now been formally endorsed within the United Nation's Sustainable Development Goals agenda. On World AIDS Day, UNAIDS will be calling for the world to achieve: "Zero new HIV infections. Zero discrimination. Zero AIDS-related deaths."
Canada has an extensive network of healthcare professionals, community-based organizations and AIDS service organizations contributing greatly to reducing the incidence of HIV. But a new report on HIV infections from the Public Health Agency of Canada illustrates the need to expand the reach and impact of HIV prevention and treatment efforts.
Closing this access gap means expanding health systems to include grassroots outreach and the community-level advocates who lead the charge. It is well documented that village-level and even home-based HIV testing greatly improve rates of testing. The same is true for HIV education, counselling, and treatment follow-up.
One key promise of Multi-Purpose Prevention Technologies is that they will allow women to take control over their own sexual and reproductive health decisions. But I can't help but wonder about the difference between putting prevention and contraception 'in women's hands' versus 'on women's shoulders.'
Racialized women and children, especially from the Global South often become the face of health issues as their faces (literally) are plastered on the websites and brochures of global health organizations. Their images usually accompanied by indicators of poverty and rural geographies and are offered to an audience as the justification for much needed programs.
As advocates, we often like to use analogies to explain the scourge of pandemics like HIV: It's a runaway train with no conductor, a loaded gun in the hands of a madman, a tide that needs to be turned. The problem with analogies though is that they have a way of detracting from the overarching, inevitable truth: People are dying. Real people. By the end of 2012, there were 35.3 million people across the world living with HIV. Even more jarring is the fact that one third of those people also have tuberculosis, and many of them will die before they even know that they have it.
Vulnerable population groups including, Indigenous communities, people who inject drugs, men who have sex with men, sex workers, prison inmates, women and transgender communities, still experience considerable health, social and political inequities, confront human rights injustices, and shoulder the brunt of new HIV infections.
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.
I am part of the HIV support community at Positive Women's Network (PWN) in Vancouver, BC. Many of our members are of Aboriginal descent -- not a surprise, given that Aboriginal people are disproportionately affected by HIV. Stigma shadows discussions about sexual health, mental health and wellness, drug use, and definitely sex itself.
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.