In 2011 the World Health Organization announced that the slogan for World AIDS Day for the next 5 years would be: Getting to Zero. As I posted last year this has to be more than a theme, or even a hope: this has to be a goal. A goal that all countries try to achieve – but one that sadly many countries – including my own – are ignoring.
There are still nations in the world where people are told that AIDS is a “foreigner’s disease”; countries where people are shunned because of the disease; countries where children are forced into prostitution and spread the disease and are discarded when they are too sick to “work”; places where it is preached as a less-than-loving god’s punishment for an abnormal life style; and countries where promises are made and then once the photo-op has passed ignored or given only lip service. It would be nice to think that these are what were once called “third world” nations but sadly my own country is one of those nations that made grandiose statements and promises and claims to be a “world leader” is really only a bit player.
I made the statement at work the other day that I was ashamed of Canada but was quickly corrected and told that I had no reason to be ashamed of my country – we were still a nation of caring people. What, I was told in no uncertain words, I should be ashamed of is my government. And looking at events in the past few days I am in complete agreement with that sentiment.
On Thursday evening C389 an amendment to a bill that would have made generic pharmaceuticals affordable and available in third world countries was defeated. A bill that would have gone a long way to meeting our commitment to be a nation that cares about AIDS at home and abroad lost by seven votes. The next day on radio Mike Lake, the Parliamentary Secretary to the Minister of Industry mouthed weak excuses and platitudes about our continued role as a “world leader”in the fight against AIDS – unfortunately he could not give any concrete examples of that “leadership”. And in the interview that followed Stephen Douglas, a strong voice for AIDS advocacy, put paid to the party line as spouted by Mr Lake. I found it strange that something so centred around health was addressed by someone with the Industry portfolio. But then that is what it was really all about – protecting the pharmaceutical companies. It had little or nothing to do with our role in combating AIDS in the world but more to do with making sure the big corporations were happy and protected.
And in our country a whole segment of the population has been, if not neglected, relegated to a minor concern in AIDS education process. Yesterday figures were released by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network; figures that indicate that our First Nations, Métis and Inuit are more at risk than any other group in our country. According to statistics (2006 census) that though they represent only 3.8% of Canada’s population, they account for 7.5% of Canadians living with HIV.
In 2008 aboriginal people accounted for 12.5% of all newly reported cases of HIV infections in Canada. This was 3.6% higher than the rate for other groups that year. Research is being carried out to find out why the rate is so high and there is real concern that an alarming number of aboriginal Canadians are engaging in risky lifestyles. And in most communities the stigma attached to AIDS is ever present and a barrier to working together with the Federal Government to education people. Families shunning members with AIDS and turning them out of the community is a not uncommon reaction. And the remoteness of many communities means that treatment – and even diagnosis – is not always readily available. There is a program in the works to produce educational material in aboriginal languages and groups like the Network are attempting to stem the rise in HIV and AIDS cases among aboriginal people by teaching young people — in a culturally appropriate way — how to protect themselves. As with all organizations and people concerned with the spread of HIV and AIDS their goal is ZERO.
The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network programme is an example of what must be done: to reach that goal of ZERO there must be ZERO fear, ZERO stigma, ZERO discrimination, ZERO risks before we can reach ZERO new cases and ZERO deaths.
The CBC has published an interactive map charting the global reach of the HIV/AIDS Epidemic.
02 December – 1763: Dedication of the Touro Synagogue, in Newport, Rhode Island, the first synagogue in what became the United States.