Today marks the 31st annual World AIDS Day – a time to remember those who we’ve lost, support the over 60,000 Canadians living with HIV/AIDS and recommit ourselves to ending this epidemic once and for all. Today also marks the beginning of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, which helps draw attention to HIV/AIDS in First Nations, Inuit and Métis communities.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Communities make the difference” – and the story of the past few decades shows just how true this is. Just think back to the very first World AIDS Day in 1988. At the time, politicians wouldn’t even say the letters H-I-V. Stigma and misinformation were rampant, leaders were missing in action and impassioned pleas fell on deaf ears. Yet folks never gave up. Communities came together to support one another, effect change and pressure governments for action.
The tireless efforts of so many community organizations helped us get where we are today. But their work is far from over. They continue to make an incredible difference in the lives of Canadians with HIV – playing a crucial role in prevention, testing, care and support. Indigenous communities are also making great strides towards community-led care, helping close gaps that exist for Indigenous peoples with HIV while supporting culturally-appropriate treatment.
It’s our responsibility to do everything we can to help these organizations do their work, which is exactly why they’re a central part of our Action Plan on Sexually Transmitted and Blood-Borne Infections. Released earlier this year, the plan will help us reduce the rates of diseases like HIV, improve access to testing and treatment and fight stigma. The unique needs of Indigenous communities are central to these efforts.
Our plan will build on the work Canada has already done, including becoming the first country in the world to officially endorse the Undetectable=Untransmittable (U=U) campaign. U=U means that someone on HIV treatment with a suppressed viral load cannot sexually transmit HIV to another person. Informed by years of research, U=U is a massive step forward in ending stigma and helping those with HIV live life to the fullest. Today, we are proud to reaffirm our government’s support of this principle.
In the fight against HIV/AIDS, we all have a role to play. As a government, we’ll continue to make major investments in prevention, treatment and care. Yet there is simply no substitute for lived experience, and these efforts will always place the work of community organizations and those living with HIV front and centre. Together, let’s prevent new infections, fight stigma and eliminate AIDS by 2030.
The Honourable Patty Hajdu
Minister of Health
The Honourable Marc Miller
Minister of Indigenous Services