2015: A Turning Point in the Ongoing Battle Against HIV/AIDS in Canada

2015: A Turning Point in the Ongoing Battle Against HIV/AIDS in Canada

April 13, 2015

There is a country where 1 in 4 people living with HIV/AIDS don’t know they have it, a country where there are an estimated 8 new HIV infections every day, and in that country, the Aboriginal communities are more than three times as likely to get HIV/AIDS – might that get your attention? That country is Canada, and we have decided that it is time to do something about these numbers.

But HIV/AIDS in 2015 in Canada? Surely that can’t be our Canada today.

Sadly, a majority of Canadians think of HIV/AIDS in this way. In reality, not only is HIV/AIDS still a major problem in Canada, it is severely impacting Aboriginal communities where the disease is spreading at alarming rates.

For the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS) – a national coalition of community-based AIDS organizations across Canada – stemming the tide of this disease is a priority. CAS is dedicated to strengthening the response to HIV/AIDS across all sectors of society and keeping issues of HIV/AIDS front and centre in the public consciousness. One way that CAS is delivering on its commitment to Canadians is through a partnership with Mylan – one of the world’s leading generics and specialty pharmaceutical companies – in the “Mylan Relay for Hope” coast-to-coast campaign for HIV/AIDS awareness.

“Mylan’s mission is to provide the world’s 7 billion people access to high quality medicine, including those who depend on our antiretroviral treatments,” said Richard Guest, President of Mylan Pharmaceuticals ULC in Canada. “Our longstanding commitment to fighting the disease has already made a significant difference for millions of people and their families and communities. In fact, approximately 40% of those being treated for the disease in the developing world today depend on our medicines.”

CAS is but one partner in the fight against HIV/AIDS. Among its members are the dedicated AIDS Service Organizations (ASOs) across the country who provide essential services and programs to people living with HIV/AIDS. Many of these ASOs are working at the grassroots level with Aboriginal communities where the HIV infection rates are increasing.

CAS’ Chief Executive Officer, Monique Doolittle Romas reflects on the greatest challenge related to HIV/AIDS in Canada today. “The people living with HIV/AIDS are of great value to our communities and to the country. We believe that the Mylan Relay for Hope will bring public attention to the issues faced by all people living with HIV and AIDS in Canada. It is time to break the stigma that is faced in all of our communities and make HIV more than a whispered word.”

About the issues that Aboriginal people in Canada face

The HIV and AIDS epidemic within the Aboriginal population in Canada threatens the ongoing health and stability of First Nations, Inuit and Métis people. The complexity of the epidemic demands a strategic and thoughtful response grounded in meaningful and culturally relevant actions.

While the stories vary from urban communities to rural and remote ones, the reality is that Aboriginal people are at increased risk for HIV transmission in Canada. There are multiple contributing factors, including:
• Limited access to culturally relevant prevention and awareness messages;
• Increased rates of illicit drug use; and
• Poverty, homelessness and other social determinants of health.

The Aboriginal Strategy on HIV in Canada, developed by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) outlines four goals that will help bring an end to this tragic epidemic in Aboriginal communities in Canada:
• Ensure that the best possible efforts, in all areas, are placed to meet the needs of Aboriginal people living with HIV/AIDS;
• Prevent the further spread of HIV/AIDS among Aboriginal populations, through education, awareness, diagnosis, care, treatment and support programs for those at risk of, living with and affected by HIV/AIDS guided by research data and evidence-based decisions;
• Respond to the diversity within the Aboriginal population through culturally relevant and targeted initiatives including harm reduction approaches and group specific resources; and
• Support Aboriginal people living with HIV/AIDS to improve quality of life by maintaining consistent services and promoting relational care.

This strategy lays out the facts of the epidemic among Aboriginal people in Canada. For example, in contrast to HIV and AIDS cases in the non-Aboriginal population, Aboriginal women make up a comparatively large part of the Aboriginal HIV/AIDS epidemic – accounting for nearly half of all cumulative HIV infections among Aboriginal people. Also, between 1998 and the end of 2006, persons aged 0 to 29 made up approximately 32% of all HIV-positive Aboriginal diagnoses.

“These are all part and parcel of social issues that our various governments must deal with when it comes to Aboriginal people in Canada. Everyone is well aware of this and steps are being taken, but the process must be accelerated somehow,” added Ms. Doolittle-Romas of CAS.

Many of CAS’ member organizations work closely with First Nations communities to provide culturally appropriate programs and services related to HIV testing, diagnosis, treatment, care, and support.

“There are best practices – I know of a doctor in Saskatchewan who visits the local reserves in his community to provide just these services. And the evolution of Aboriginal AIDS Service Organizations across the country has helped to ensure that First Nations, Inuit and Métis people living in urban settings have access to these services as well,” explains Ms. Doolittle-Romas.

HIV/AIDS continues to have a devastating impact on communities across the world. In Canada, it’s estimated that there are 71,300 people living with HIV/AIDS and despite the significant progress made in many areas, the battle continues. CAS needs the continued support of Canadians to help beat this disease and with the Mylan Relay for Hope, the ongoing realities of HIV/AIDS will be heard beyond a mere whisper – hopefully inspiring Canadians to support people living with this disease in Canada, and around the globe.

Sources:
1) Canadian AIDS Society.
2) Aboriginal Strategy on HIV/AIDS in Canada II. Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. Vancouver, BC. 2009.
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