After 35 years of fierce activism, AIDS Action Now!, the HIV treatment activist group, is shutting down.
AIDS Action Now! was formed in Toronto in 1988 as a community-based response to the lack of institutional leadership regarding treatment and healthcare for people living with HIV/AIDS. Its strategy was to combine confrontational public demonstrations with strategic documents and “behind the scenes” meetings with government and institutional leaders. These meetings pushed decision-makers to respond more forcefully to HIV healthcare at a time when it was highly stigmatized and few treatment options were available.
Guided by a steering committee composed mostly of people living with HIV, AIDS Action Now! refused government and pharmaceutical funding in order to retain its critical independence. Nonetheless, the unpaid work of its volunteer members transformed the landscape of HIV in Canada. Brightly coloured stickers, pamphlets, banners and posters ridiculing governmental silence and ineptitude, as well as “die-ins” organized in major Toronto intersections, created widespread awareness of the catastrophe that was unfolding among gay men and other marginalized communities such as people who use drugs, racialized communities, sex workers and people with hemophilia.
Among its significant victories were the activation of the federal government’s emergency drug release program and the creation of the Ontario government’s Trillium Drug Program, which made costly HIV drugs accessible to people with low incomes. AIDS Action Now! also organized a comprehensive information system for HIV treatments; its Treatment Information Exchange culminated in the creation of CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information.
Its prison subcommittee became PASAN, a community-based prisoner health and harm reduction organization, and its legal committee established the HIV and AIDS Legal Clinic of Ontario (HALCO). In more recent years, AIDS Action Now! coordinated PosterVirus, a provocative partnership with artists aimed at fighting ongoing HIV-related stigma and discrimination. This collection was recently acquired by the National Institutes of Health. But perhaps most importantly, AIDS Action Now! provided a voice for people with HIV and championed the idea that HIV could become the chronic, manageable illness that it is today for most people in Canada.
AIDS Action Now! had been largely inactive over the past years and the decision to disband was made by the current steering committee. The remaining funds in the AIDS Action Now! account have been donated to food programming at the Toronto PWA Foundation.