On December 1, World AIDS Day, The Hon. Dr. Jane Philpott, Canada’s Minister of Health, declared that our country endorses the UNAIDS treatment targets that look to seeing an end to the global AIDS epidemic by 2030. On the same day, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau issued a statement that, in part, declared “we are now at a point where we can envision a future free of this terrible disease.”
This is good news and heralds, I believe, a new time and a new opportunity for our country to respond in an unprecedented manner to the HIV epidemic that resides globally and in specific communities across Canada. In her World AIDS Day message, Minister Philpott spoke of the opportunity “to harness the power of social change to prevent new infections and to improve the quality of life of those living with HIV or AIDS worldwide.” Hearing that, I can’t help but reflect on the welcome change in this country: that “the power of social change” may have been delivered politically. We welcome this new government, and we welcome these supportive and encouraging words from both the Minister and Prime Minister.
As they both remark, much has been accomplished. New treatments mean a good long life for most living with HIV, and much has been learned about how early detection, early treatment and medication adherence can also dramatically reduce the risk of HIV transmission.
Much more, however, still needs to be done if we are to accomplish that eradication of HIV – of ‘getting to zero new HIV infections, zero discrimination, and zero AIDS-related deaths’ envisioned by the UNAIDS plan, and to see an HIV-free Canada. Minister Philpott mentioned “the difference that can be made by working together with affected communities,” and, certainly, our country would benefit from a more concerted and strategic effort to address the disproportionately high incidence of new HIV infections among the Aboriginal community, gay men and people who use drugs. She also mentioned the fact that one in five Canadians living with HIV do not know they have the virus. Reaching these individuals and offering them treatment for their own health and to reduce further transmission to their partners is an essential part of getting to an HIV-free Canada.
To accomplish all we need to, we need to be strategic. Let’s develop a national strategy to respond to the HIV epidemic on our shores. Minister Philpott’s and Prime Minister Trudeau’s encouraging words suggest there is the will to take that on. We look forward to working with the government on realizing that national agenda and the life-giving goals it can achieve.
Minister Philpott said: “Now is the time to strengthen our resolve to ‘Get to Zero’.” We couldn’t agree more.
Laurie Edmiston is Executive Director of CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information.