WORLD AIDS DAY 2021: FORTY YEARS OF HIV, FORTY YEARS OF PROGRESS
The following can be attributed to the HIV Legal Network.
November 30, 2021 – Toronto – Tomorrow is World AIDS Day — a day to reflect on the current state of HIV and AIDS in the world, where we started, and how far we’ve come in the 40 years since the first diagnoses. It’s also a day to celebrate those living with HIV, take stock of where we want to go, and how we’re going to get there.
Forty years ago, the world reacted to HIV with fear and stigma, with those affected pushed to the margins of society. Many were tragically lost and many more forced into hiding. But things started to change as organizations formed to fight for the human rights of those most affected by HIV and AIDS, from the front lines of health care, to activism centered on improving access to treatment, to advocacy challenging hateful laws and policies that impede health care and support. The HIV Legal Network has been active in this area for almost 30 years, consistently pushing for legal and policy changes in Canada and around the world to respect, protect, and fulfill the rights of people living with HIV, LGBTQ2S+ people, people who use drugs, prisoners, sex workers, and others who are disproportionately affected by HIV.
In the past several years, we have seen major advances in access to harm reduction services such as needle and syringe programs and supervised consumption services, which have lowered the risks of HIV and hepatitis C transmission through re-used injection equipment. We have seen fewer and fewer prosecutions of people living with HIV in Canada, though even one is too many. And while there is still much work to do to reform drug policy in Canada and beyond, we have seen fewer prosecutions of people who use drugs in Canada, too.
But we must go further.
As the twin pandemics of COVID-19 and the drug poisoning crisis exacerbate the threat to public health, we need immediate law reform in Canada to decriminalize drugs and facilitate access to a safe, regulated supply. We need better access to needle and syringe and other harm reduction programs in prisons. We need to repeal sex work offences, which deny sex workers their human rights and access to labour protections. We need governments that continue to criminalize LGBTQ+ people to recognize the human rights of our LGBTQ+ community members. And we need to end HIV criminalization, in Canada and globally, today.
Canada has signed on to the UNAIDS Goal of eliminating HIV as a public health threat by 2030, but we are not among the over 40 countries for whom this is within reach. The number of new cases of HIV diagnosed in Canada each year continues to grow and we urgently need improved funding to turn the tide. In 2003, the House of Commons Standing Committee on Health unanimously recommended that Canada double its HIV funding to $85 million annually. In 2004, the Government of Canada largely agreed, committing to gradually increasing it funding over several years, but that funding never fully materialized. Instead, we have seen a deficit of more than $123 million that should have been dedicated to the fight against HIV.
This year marks 40 years of living with HIV — and 40 years of activism to address the societal inequities that have allowed this epidemic to continue. HIV, like the current COVID-19 pandemic, thrives on marginalization and fear. If we are to see the end of HIV as a public health threat, we must fully fund the fight and commit ourselves to addressing the injustices that have fed it.
This World AIDS Day, we must refocus our efforts in pursuit of a world that is more just and more equitable for all, including people living with and affected by HIV and AIDS.
Megan Long, Communications Specialist
HIV Legal Network
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