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12/29/2017 15:52 EST | Updated 12/29/2017 15:53 EST

Addressing HIV Means Overcoming Barriers In The Way Of Hope

True solutions to the HIV/AIDS crisis must address the barriers that many people with HIV face every day.

Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development
HIV/AIDS, UNAIDS, Right to Health

By Tammy C. Yates

Traditionally, to mark World AIDS Day, I tend to remain singularly focused on the theme selected globally, or nationally, to raise awareness about the particular issue or topic that needs to be highlighted.

Traditionally, I focus on the contribution that Realize is making in the response to HIV at home and abroad.

These are not traditional times.

On December 1, as we marked World AIDS Day (WAD), many community-based HIV organizations at all levels that have served and empowered people living with HIV for decades have either closed down, are on the brink of closing down, or may be considering closing down due to funding constraints. Right when the hard earned gains of decades long perseverance may be beginning to pay off, many of us in the HIV sector feel that the rug is being pulled from under us and all of those gains are now in jeopardy!

Advanced by the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV/AIDS (UNAIDS), the admirable goal of "Ending AIDS by 2030" has rightly grabbed the world's imagination in recent years, dominating global and national discussions of HIV/AIDS, driving policy decisions, and shaping the choices of leading funders.

Imagining the end of the HIV/AIDS pandemic is an admirable, inspiring goal! It fits nicely into our collective ideals of progress and scientific advancement. It builds on very real and exciting medical breakthroughs in diagnosis and treatment that have turned HIV infection from a death sentence into a potentially manageable chronic disease for millions. This is hope!

But there is much more that needs to be done.

Increasingly, people living with HIV around the world, front-line workers and other experts who have delved deeply into what's really happening, have warned that a purely medical approach is not enough to solve the complexities of the HIV crisis. Their lived experience and knowledge of the social dimensions of the disease tell them that the solutions are not so simple.

True solutions to the HIV/AIDS crisis must address the barriers that many people with HIV face every day and the social challenges that keep the threat of illness and harm very real — overcoming the barriers in the way of hope! These barriers include:

  • Social exclusion and isolation
  • Lack of access to services
  • Discrimination in employment and the chance to earn a livelihood
  • Disability brought on by HIV and some drug treatments
  • The uncertainties of living and aging with HIV

A true realization of living fully with HIV demands a much more robust approach to be effective.

The theme for World AIDS Day 2017 is the "Right to Health." The World Health Organization (WHO) defines "health" in its broader sense in its 1948 constitution as "a state of complete physical, mental, and social well-being and not merely the absence of disease or infirmity." To complement this global theme, the WHO will highlight the need for all 36.7 million people living with HIV, and those who are vulnerable and affected by the epidemic, to reach the goal of universal health coverage. Community based organizations in the HIV sector play a critical role in reaching this goal.

It is my hope that in my 2018 statement to mark World AIDS Day, I'll be lauding the federal government's finalization of the "Framework for Action Towards the Elimination of Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections as Public Health Threats in Canada by 2030," as well as the long-promised increased investment in the national response to HIV.

Only time will tell.

Tammy C. Yates: In February 2015, Tammy C. Yates became the first black woman to be appointed as Executive Director of a National Partner Organization in Canada's HIV response when she was named to lead Realize (formerly the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation – CWGHR). Her résumé includes over a decade of senior management, administration and communications experience in the non-profit and international development sectors. She originally joined the Realize Team in January 2013 and served as the Manager of Programs and Communications until her date of appointment. Prior to joining Realize, Tammy was the Officer-In-Charge/National Program Manager of the United Nations Population Fund (UNFPA) Trinidad & Tobago Branch Office.

This blog is part of the blog series: Barometer Rising: No time to backtrack the fast track to ending HIV as a global health threat by 2030 by the Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD) in recognition of World AIDS Day (1 December). The series features a selection of blogs written by our member and partner organizations. Contributors share their broad range of perspectives and insight on the right to health within Canada and globally to critically reflect on the response to HIV knowing we are now just 2 years from the 2020 Fast-Track targets (90-90-90) and just over a decade away from the 2030 Global Goals for Sustainable Development (SDGs).

Are we on the right track or are we on the back-track?

Disclaimer: The views and opinions expressed in this blog series are those of the authors and do not necessarily reflect those of ICAD.

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