On Dec. 1st each year, we observe World AIDS Day, a time and opportunity for those around the world, including in our province, to show support to those living with HIV and AIDS, to regroup our collective efforts against HIV and to remember those whose lives were cut short and the smiles taken from us too early.
The virus, identified in 1984, has taken the lives of more than 35 million people globally; according to the most recent data from Health Canada, in 2014 over 75,000 Canadians were living with a form of HIV, and that number has risen since. HIV has proven to be one of the deadliest pandemics in human history.
However, breakthroughs in medical science have brought much hope for those living with the virus, and those who are at risk — and that is everyone. HIV does not discriminate based on ethnic background, skin colour, religious beliefs or sexual orientation, and on World AIDS Day it is important to celebrate the advances towards an AIDS-free world.
Yet the stigma associated with AIDS has had intensely negative impacts on those who live with the virus and on communities at higher risk of infection. Dec. 1st is also a time to thank those who so often serve in thankless jobs of activism, to the AIDS societies and organizations across the world and here at home, especially the Tommy Sexton Centre, for their continued commitment to educating against ill-conceived stigmas and social paradigms.
The campaign of U=U, or undetectable equals untransmittable, has aimed to break much of the stigma and fears that have been typically associated with intimate encounters with HIV-positive individuals. Hard work and research by medical professionals and AIDS activists has paid off.
This past September, the U.S. Centre for Disease Control stated that “people who take ART daily as prescribed achieve and maintain an undetectable viral load have effectively no risk of sexually transmitting the virus to an HIV negative virus.”
As well, at the AIDS Society Conference in Paris, Dr. Julio Montaner, UBC-Killam professor of medicine and UBC-St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation AIDS research chair, declared very plainly that “an undetectable HIV viral load means HIV is untransmittable.”
This is a major achievement hard-fought for; but their work, like ours, is not done and will never be until we can say once and for all we live in an AIDS-free world.
Scientists, including here in Canada, are on the brink of finding a vaccine, the culmination of a huge endeavour towards creating an AIDS-free world. With bated breath we await the day when a vaccine becomes a reality, and we will continue with HIV infection prevention and ultimately a cure. Until that day, we will press on.
It’s been a long journey in the fight against AIDS and HIV, but there is still much work to do. Today, when you see a red ribbon, take a moment to remember those in your life who may be touched by HIV, and remember those who will not have the opportunity to see an AIDS-free world. But for them and for all of us, as Newfoundlanders, as Canadians, and as citizens of the world, recommit yourself to helping support those who lead the charge against AIDS.
Better is always possible. And so is an AIDS-free world.
Director of external affairs
St. John’s Pride Inc.