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World AIDS Day 2020: Standing in solidarity and claiming our shared responsibility

World Aids Day December 1. A ribbon and candle are pictured.
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On December 1st, we commemorate World AIDS Day to remember all those who live with HIV and AIDS, and those who have lost their lives to this disease. This week also marks Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week; a week to raise awareness of this disease among Indigenous Peoples and to reduce the stigma of HIV and AIDS.

We wish to begin by remembering those who have died of the disease. In the 1980s and through the 1990s, queer communities were ravaged, and thousands died, both due to lack of adequate medical resources and discrimination. In the 1990s HIV and AIDS ravaged across the African continent. Tens of thousands of women were intentionally infected when HIV positive militants were sent to systematically rape as a weapon of war. These women also suffered a lack of medical care and deep discrimination.

President Warren (Smokey) Thomas says OPSEU/SEFPO stands with everyone who have lost friends and loved ones to this terrible disease.

“Communities need the necessary education to prevent the spread of HIV and AIDS, but also the information on how to live with the disease, especially during the COVID-19 pandemic,” says Thomas. “We’re proud of the work we’ve done and continue to do with initiatives like our Live and Let Live Fund, dedicated to support organizations that are actively involved in combatting HIV and AIDS.”

This year, in the thick of a pandemic, we are turning to the theme of global solidarity and shared responsibility. As we’ve seen during this pandemic, lack of access to appropriate medical care further exacerbates existing inequities, as racialized people and Indigenous peoples have suffered its effects disproportionately. So is the case with HIV and AIDS.

We applaud the many advancements already achieved in treating HIV and AIDS.  Today and with the right medication, people living with HIV can live just as long as those without the virus.  People who are HIV positive and are undetectable cannot pass the virus to someone else.  However, in order to attain undetectable status, people need to take specific medication for it.

“The high cost of this medicine is a barrier to those who do not have access to affordable healthcare and as such, they do not have the ability to live with dignity,” added Joseanne Job, Chair of OPSEU/SEFPO Live and Let Live Fund. “In addition to debunking the myths of living with HIV and AIDS, we also need to work towards making healthcare more affordable especially to communities that are disproportionately affected.”

We must take responsibility for each other’s well-being and work to ensure that everyone has the care they need. We must stand in solidarity, across national borders, with all peoples, to work to find a cure for HIV and AIDS. We need to learn to hear the stories of survivors. Together, we can keep each other safe.

OPSEU/SEFPO First Vice-President/Treasurer Eduardo (Eddy) Almeida says it’s important to be part of the fight and to be part of the solution. “We currently have colliding pandemics. We must remember the ongoing need for accessible treatment for all. We can’t leave anyone behind”.

The red ribbon is the universal symbol of awareness and support for people living with HIV. Wearing a ribbon is a great way to raise awareness on and before World AIDS Day.

We encourage OPSEU/SEFPO members to take a selfie with a lit candle and post it to your social media in solidarity. Please also send that photo to equity@opseu.org so that we can compile a collage of all of our images, standing together, though we are apart.