AIDS Awareness Week takes place on the last week of November each year, culminating on World AIDS Day, December 1st.
HIV/AIDS has been part of our society since the early 1980s. Some of you may remember the early days. There was a lot of fear, a lot that scientists and health care providers didn’t know about HIV/AIDS back then. There were tragic stories of communities experiencing multiple losses. Receiving an HIV diagnosis back then was commonly understood to be a death sentence. The sexual health messaging we saw was well-intentioned, but fear-based, and far too limited. News coverage was seldom positive – there were too few ‘good news stories’. Ultimately, these things caused a great deal of stigma for people living with HIV/AIDS as well as for communities who have been disproportionately affected by the pandemic.
Many of us remember this time all too well. We’ve lost many friends and loved ones. Attended far too many funerals and memorial services. Cared for far too many, far too long, with far too few resources or tools to help. We lived in fear of contracting HIV, or of transmitting the virus to someone we care about.
Some of us are stuck in the 1980s, believing HIV/AIDS to be the same thing it once was.
Enormous strides have been made in the HIV/AIDS sector. Today, we’ve got the tools and science to halt the HIV pandemic.
- Testing for HIV is easier and faster than it’s ever been. In fact, knowing your status can be as simple as a finger prick, with results while you wait.
- Managing HIV has also gotten simpler. For many people living with HIV, their treatment involves taking as little as one pill each day. People living with HIV today can live long, healthy lives.
- People living with HIV who are on effective treatment resulting in viral suppression can’t pass HIV to their sexual partners. (This is also known as “Undetectable=Untransmittable” or “U=U’)
- In addition to condoms and other sexual health strategies, there’s a pill that HIV negative people can take once a day, which is highly effective at preventing HIV transmission. It’s commonly referred to as PrEP (Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis).
Ending the HIV pandemic is within our grasp. The tools are available to us. And the key is for each person to know their HIV status.
What gets in the way is stigma. Stigma that comes from fear and misinformation. This is the real danger. Stigma stops people from getting tested, from disclosing their status to their loved ones, and from having open conversations that help to dispel myths. Each of us has the responsibility to get informed.
So this year, on AIDS Awareness Week, we challenge everyone to learn something new about HIV. Because some things should stay in the 1980’s. HIV/AIDS stigma is one of them.
For more information, please visit: https://www.voicesforworldaidsday.ca/