Reflections on World AIDS Day, Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week

Each year, December 1 marks World AIDS Day, as well as the start of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week, a time to honor those lost to the disease and raise awareness of the inequalities that still impact. deep into the fight against HIV / AIDS 40 years after the virus was discovered. Photo by the US National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID).

The following is a submitted Op / Ed. The views and opinions expressed do not necessarily reflect those of Kingstonist.

In June 1981, the world received the first reports of what would later be known as HIV / AIDS. Over the next 40 years, more than 36 million people died from the disease. Today, there are approximately 38 million people living with HIV (PLHIV).

Significant progress has been made in 40 years: HIV treatments today are unlike the limited and toxic treatments of the past. In fact, they often consist of one pill a day. The drugs have fewer side effects, which leads to greater adhesion. And in 2020, the first long-lasting injectable treatment for HIV was approved by Health Canada, giving people living with HIV more options. People living with HIV today have the tools they need to live long and healthy lives.

In addition, the evidence tells us that a person living with HIV who is on antiretroviral therapy (ART) and who has an undetectable level of the virus in their blood cannot pass it on to someone else through sex. with or without the use of a condom (“Undetectable = Non-communicable” or “U = U”). In Ontario, over 97 percent of people on ART have undetectable rates of HIV.

The US National Institutes of Health reports that: “U = U is a game-changer because it transforms the social, sexual and reproductive lives of people living with HIV. It allows people living with HIV and their partners to be in a relationship without fear of transmitting HIV. People living with HIV report that they no longer feel “like outcasts” or “infected”. In addition, it is changing the way healthcare professionals, the public, employers and policy makers see and make decisions about people living with HIV.

The biggest danger with HIV is not knowing your status. Data suggests that up to 14 percent of people living with HIV do not know their status. Therefore, access to easy, non-judgmental testing is crucial. The COVID-19 pandemic has limited patients’ access to sexual health screening. Fortunately, the HIV self-test is now available in Ontario. The self-test involves a simple finger prick with results available within minutes.

For people who are HIV negative and in populations with a higher incidence of HIV infection, pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is an adjunct to other HIV prevention strategies. PrEP is a pill taken daily that is over 99% effective in preventing HIV infection.

Breakthroughs in HIV treatment, testing and prevention have benefited countless people, but are leaving too many behind. Africans, Caribbean, Blacks and Indigenous people are over-represented in the number of HIV infections in Canada. As a society, we cannot end HIV / AIDS without confronting anti-black racism and doing the work of reconciliation with Indigenous peoples, dismantling the systems that continue to oppress and marginalize people.

Today, three global health crises are occurring simultaneously: COVID-19, HIV / AIDS and drug poisoning. What these have in common is that the greatest impacts are felt by the most marginalized and stigmatized in our community. While COVID-19 resulted in one of the fastest government and health responses in history, making large-scale testing and vaccination available in record time, that sense of urgency has not been applied to end attacks of HIV and drug poisoning. We have to face the stigma that causes us to value some lives more than others.

COVID-19 has worsened the already unfathomable death toll from drug poisoning. The message from COVID is that it’s best to keep your distance and isolate yourself; the greatest danger in a drug poisoning attack is that people use substances alone. COVID has worsened the illicit drug market, pushed people to use in isolation, and reduced access to life-saving services.

According to BMC Public Health: “In British Columbia, overdose is the leading cause of death among an underserved cohort of people living with HIV (PLHIV) in British Columbia, Canada. Public health efforts to end the HIV epidemic and support the health and well-being of PLHIV are hampered by persistent health inequalities and the enormous and persistent risks faced by people who use drugs. Integrated, low-barrier primary care is essential to support underserved PLHIV, and a secure supply of medicines is necessary to support PLHIV who use drugs.

December 1 is World AIDS Day and the start of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week. As we honor the lives of those we have lost and work to improve the lives of those living with HIV and at risk, let us also take this opportunity to redouble our efforts to fight ignorance and stigma and fight back. against the inequalities that persist. afflict our society.

Gilles Charette
Executive Director, HARS (Regional HIV / AIDS Services)
Kingston


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