World AIDS Day, observed on December 1st every year, is dedicated to raising awareness of the AIDS epidemic caused by the HIV infection. It is also a time for reflection on what has been achieved by the national and global response to HIV/AIDS – and what still needs to be done.
December 1st also marks the beginning of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week in Canada.
Infections on the rise
HIV and AIDS remain a worldwide epidemic. According to UNAIDS, there are approximately 37 million people currently living with HIV—a new record—and 1.8 million new infections in 2017 alone. That same year, 940,000 people died of AIDS-related illness. Moreover, about a quarter of those living with HIV, or 9.4 million, are unaware that they are infected.
In Canada, there are over 63,000 people living with HIV. Every year, an additional 2,165 people contract the virus. An estimated 14% of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware they are infected. Meanwhile, Indigenous peoples in Canada have an infection rate that is 2.7 times higher than non-Indigenous Canadians.
Commitment and action needed
HIV/AIDS can be prevented and significant advancements have been made in the ability to treat those living with HIV/AIDS. However, universal access to preventative measures, medical care and support remains a distant goal in Canada and internationally.
At the international level, PSAC calls on the federal government to increase its pledge to the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis and Malaria, for its upcoming replenishment in 2019. The Global Fund is the largest international financing mechanism dedicated to eliminating the three epidemics worldwide by 2030.
Canada’s HIV strategy underfunded
The federal government must also urgently address the underfunding for peer support HIV programs across Canada. The operations of dozens of organizations—including the Canadian AIDS Society and the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network—have suffered this year due to a diversion of federal funds away from organizations supporting those living with HIV.
Furthermore, a cumulative $104 million in funds earmarked for the federal HIV strategy were left unspent over the 2004 to 2016 period. As the Canadian HIV/Aids Legal Network alerted earlier this year, the current Liberal government has failed to address this “chronic underfunding of the federal HIV strategy”.
Stand in solidarity
Abroad and in Canada, individuals from marginalized groups living with HIV/AIDS often face greater social stigma and barriers to access health and social support services. On this World Aids Day, PSAC is calling on all Canadians to stand in solidarity with those suffering from marginalization and to continue their support for all people living with HIV/AIDS.