World AIDS Day is recognized every year on December 1 and there is much to celebrate. Compared to 20 years ago, a young person now has a long life expectancy if diagnosed early and treated with antiviral therapy. In addition, the treatment itself has greatly improved from handfuls of pills multiple times a day to one pill per day. In Canada where medication and treatment is accessible and the rates of HIV/AIDS are relatively low, we are able to respond to our citizens’ needs with the best available care. But we can not ignore our responsibility to contribute to the global fight.
UNAIDS monitors progress on Global targets set by the United Nations General Assembly (including Canada) with the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001. One target is to “Reduce new HIV infections to fewer than 500,000 globally by 2020”. The world has less than 4 years to achieve this and according to the data there is much work to do:
- 2,100,000 new infections are still diagnosed each year
- 17,100,000 people are unaware they have HIV/AIDS.
The Public Health Agency of Canada (PHAC) is the key government player in HIV/AIDS education and monitoring. Under PHAC’s mandate is “Strengthen intergovernmental collaboration on public health and facilitate national approaches to public health policy and planning”.
Among Canada’s other partners contributing to the global fight is the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR).
So why does it look like we are not contributing critical data? In the UNAIDS 2016 Prevention Gap Report, Canada appears to have not reported for 10 years. This puts us in the same category of countries with ‘Data not available’ that includes: Iraq, Syria, Libya and North Korea. This is disconcerting. Canada is a massive grey hole in the global monitoring of HIV/AIDS.
Percent change in new HIV infections among adults (aged 15 years and older), from 2005-2015
It’s not as if we don’t have HIV/AIDS in Canada or that PHAC isn’t monitoring the situation. A 2016 update to UNAIDS from Canada highlights the statistics and some of the work that still needs to be done:
- The estimated number of Canadians living with HIV (including AIDS) at the end of 2014 was 75,500, a 9.7% increase
- An estimated 16,020 people (21% of all those infected) are believed to be unaware that they are HIV-infected
- Indigenous people continue to be disproportionately affected by HIV, with an incidence rate of about 2.7 times higher than the rate for other Canadians in 2014.
Canada has an important role to play in working to address HIV/AIDS globally. We signed on to the Declaration of Commitment on HIV/AIDS in 2001, recommitted in 2006, 2011 and most recently in June of this year. We need to do better in honouring our promises and being accountable. Let’s start with our data.
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