FOR IMMEDIATE RELEASE – Ottawa, December 19th, 2018
December 1st, 2018, marked the thirtieth anniversary of World AIDS Day. These years have been marked by loss and tragedy as HIV/AIDS devastated communities in Canada and the rest of the world, but we have hope and unity as we work together to eradicate HIV. Some significant recent events in the HIV sector in Canada include:
- Minister of Health Ginette Petitpas Taylor has officially endorsed the U=U (Undetectable=Untransmissible) campaign, which aims to spread the definitive scientific consensus that people living with HIV who have achieved viral suppression cannot transmit the virus to others, bringing the campaign into public consciousness. U=U is a highly effective tool in reducing stigma against people living with HIV.
- The Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network has been the leader in challenging the stigma that people living with HIV face with HIV criminalization (more information can be found at aidslaw.ca/site/moving-to-end-unjust-hiv-prosecutions/). We welcome federal Attorney General Jody Wilson-Raybould’s new directive regarding the unfair prosecution of people living with HIV, but agree with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network that there is still further work to be done on this front.
- Prime Minister Justin Trudeau released a statement on Saturday for World AIDS Day in support of this year’s theme of “Know Your Status” emphasizing the importance of early testing for HIV. However, the federal government has yet to clearly engage in a national testing strategy.
The Canadian AIDS Society launched the first-ever national HIV Testing Day on June 27th of this year in collaboration with community organizations and health providers to great success, despite the government declining to support this much-needed strategy. There are an average of seven new HIV diagnoses every day in Canada, which is unacceptable given the tools we now possess in the fight against HIV. We cannot allow the Canadian response to HIV languish in complacency. Stigma continues to be the greatest challenge facing people living with HIV and is the largest deterrent to people learning their status and starting treatment, which is why initiatives like our national HIV Testing Day that normalizes HIV testing are so important. We will continue to advocate for the government to support this project as we organize the second national HIV Testing Day on June 27th, 2019, in collaboration with community-based organizations and healthcare providers across their provinces.
Despite these exciting developments, the release of the 2017 surveillance data on HIV in Canada demonstrates that the efforts to reduce new HIV infections in Canada have not been as effective as hoped. The 2016 surveillance data revealed that between 2015 and 2016 there was an 11.6% increase in the number of new HIV infections in Canada. Using 2015 as a baseline year, there was a 14.4% increase in HIV incidence between 2015 and 2017, which represents the largest increase since 2009. Within this timeframe falls the implementation of the new Community Action Fund’s funding cuts to community-based HIV organizations in Canada. 33% of these organizations lost their funding because they did not focus on the government’s new priorities of prevention-centred programming. These cuts have had devastating effects on these organizations’ long-term strategies of providing care and support to the most vulnerable.
Lastly, we must address both the limits of the surveillance data from Public Health Agency of Canada that fails to adequately record exposure category (60%) or race (49%) of new infections as well as the disparity between the surveillance data and the estimate data. It is inconceivable that in 2018, validated data of HIV incidence and prevalence is not accessible to the general public, especially within priority populations that are disproportionately at risk for contracting HIV. Canada is one of the richest countries in the world and to not have validated data is worrisome, as it is this data from which the Community Action Fund objectives are derived. As a nation whose healthcare system is globally perceived as exemplary, it is our healthcare system itself, as it exists now, which provides a barrier to access to Canadians across the country. Although public statements of support are appreciated, we must ask: are Canadian politicians content with paying lip service to the HIV/AIDS movement in Canada, or are they willing to do the hard work which is required to have zero new HIV infections in Canada? Complacency is not an option and the failure to support people living with HIV/AIDS in Canada is a political failure by the Trudeau government.
Gary Lacasse, Executive Director