On December 1, we mark World AIDS Day – sadly, the 28th such commemoration since 1988.
This year’s theme is “Getting to Zero”: zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination and Zero AIDS‑related deaths. In fact, this has been the theme of every World AIDS Day since 2011.
Obviously, we have yet to achieve any of these goals.
December 1 is set aside to raise awareness of AIDS and HIV – and to mourn those who have passed away from the disease. We know that some 37 million people live with HIV. Perhaps more alarmingly, over half of these individuals don’t realize they carry the virus, thereby imperilling even more lives. In 2014, two million people were newly infected, while 1.2 million people died from AIDS-related causes. That’s comparable to the population of Calgary.
From November 30 to December 5, we also mark Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week. Aboriginal communities are responding to HIV and AIDS with community-based initiatives, but the aboriginal AIDS rate remains 3.6 times higher than the rate for other Canadians.
But the news is not all bleak.
HIV infections have dropped by 38 per cent since 2001. Further, 80 per cent of those who know they are HIV-positive are now receiving antiretroviral therapy. Progress is being made and there is much hope for the future.
But we must not let encouraging statistics lull us into complacency. Millions still don’t know how to protect from HIV. The scourge of stigma adds to the suffering of people with HIV. World AIDS Day reminds us that HIV and AIDS have not gone away. For millions of people – in our communities, in Canada, around the world – the syndrome and its effects are a chilling reality.
It’s said that AIDS is now a manageable, chronic disease. But managing a disease is not curing it, and many people who have no access to treatment. There is a vital need to raise money that can fund research, improve education, increase awareness, and fight bigotry and prejudice.
That’s why, in 2003, OPSEU made HIV and AIDS its primary international social and fundraising focus. As such, it established the Live and Let Live Fund to support the Stephen Lewis Foundation, an organization that delivers resources directly into the hands of grassroots workers turning the tide of HIV and AIDS in Africa. OPSEU is also committed to supporting Ontario-based organizations that support people living with HIV and AIDS.
As President of OPSEU, I urge members to give generously to the Live and Let Live Fund and to wear a red ribbon on December 1. Further, in solidarity with the labour movement in Canada and around the world, I call upon governments to work collaboratively to prevent further infections, to end discrimination and to eradicate the AIDS pandemic by 2030.
Together, we can do it!