ICAD 2015 World AIDS Day Blog Series
Many of us think of HIV/AIDS as an issue affecting other countries. But an HIV epidemic in Canada? An estimated 75,500 Canadians are living with HIV, with seven new infections occurring every day. While these numbers are concerning, Canada's overall rate of new infections is still lower than the global average. What these numbers don't show, however, is that HIV has reached epidemic levels in key populations across the country.
Women living with HIV must contend not only with the possibility of rejection, shame, or violence if they disclose, but also with the fear of criminalization. The law provides abusers with another tool for blackmail and further violence, even in cases where a woman disclosed. All the partner has to do is claim she didn't. It's important to generate strategies, such as electronic or paper documentation of disclosure, to protect women living with HIV from harassment, blackmail, abuse, criminal charges, and prosecution, all of which are fueled by the law. They need ways to look out for themselves physically, emotionally, and legally.
Thato knew the risks of unprotected sex in Lesotho, a small mountainous kingdom landlocked by South Africa, a country baring the title of the world's second highest prevalence of HIV. She always used condoms, until that night. She watched as the nurse pricked her finger and the blood spilled onto the HIV test strip. She waited the painful 10 minutes it takes for the the strip to reveal one red line for HIV-negative and two for HIV-positive. The reality of her status hit her and she could no longer speak. Her words, "I am positive," seemed to hang in the space and time.
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.
One of the key factors in achieving the end of AIDS is one of the most challenging -- gender equality. We need to go beyond the science of HIV care to the larger issues of social structures that create vulnerabilities to HIV.
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.