On December 1st, the 33rd World AIDS Day and the start of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week, PAN and its member organizations stand with people living with HIV and AIDS. We also mourn those we have lost and celebrate their lives and achievements.
This year’s UNAIDS World AIDS Day theme is ‘End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics.’ It is crucial that we address inequalities if we are to effectively address HIV. We acknowledge that inequalities power this epidemic, as well as the other public health emergencies we currently face. This includes recognizing and confronting racism, stigma and discrimination and other structural barriers that impact how people are able to access health, social supports, and the other goods and services they need to stay well and thrive.
“PAN is committed to supporting and advocating for those who live with HIV, as well as those most at risk. Ending this epidemic, and the structural inequalities and stigma that drive it, are imperative,” states Patrick McDougall, Co-Chair of PAN’s Board of Directors.
Today there are approximately 9800 people diagnosed with HIV in BC, with many hundreds more unaware of their status. PAN members and other community-based organizations (CBOs) play a critical role supporting people living with HIV (PLHIV), connecting them to available treatments, and accessing other wrap around supports such as housing and harm reduction services. The critical work of linking people to testing, treatment and care has continued despite the immense challenges presented by BC’s two ongoing public health emergencies: the COVID-19 pandemic and the overdose crisis.
Indigenous people are disproportionately impacted by HIV. At the same time, the In Plain Sight review identified widespread systemic racism towards Indigenous people within BC’s health care system. This is why we recognize Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week, December 1 to 7, and applaud the leadership of CAAN, PAN’s Indigenous member organizations and other Indigenous leaders.
We also applaud the critical contributions of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, the BC Centre for Disease Control, our health authority partners and other allied organizations. Due to our combined efforts, unlike many other parts of the country, BC continues to see a decrease in new HIV infections and an increase in the number of people on treatment.
At the same time, many challenges still exist. For example, we are aware that COVID has impacted HIV testing in BC and is not projected to return to pre-pandemic testing levels by end of year. In response, CBOs, along with health system partners and researchers, are coming up with new and innovative ways to link people to testing. One example of this is increasing access to HIV self-tests through the I’m Ready research program, led by REACH Nexus, utilizing the support of over 25 community-based pickup locations across BC. Through this program, people living in BC are able to access up to three, free HIV self-test kits and, due to their participation, we are learning how to create new responsive testing programs in the province and across Canada.
“Working together, we have made many gains, but there is still more work to be done if we are to beat this epidemic and live up to our domestic and international UNAIDS commitments,” says Katrina Jensen, Co-Chair of PAN’s Board of Directors. “On World AIDS Day, and throughout Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week, there will be sorrow and remembrance, but also a renewed drive to work together to combat stigma, racism and discrimination, address inequalities and bring an end to the HIV/AIDS epidemic.”
For a list of World AIDS Day and Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week events happening across British Columbia, visit: https://bit.ly/WAD-IAAW2021
For more information about Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week visit: https://bit.ly/CAAN-IAAW2021
For more information on In Plain Sight and to see the summary report, visit: https://engage.gov.bc.ca/app/uploads/sites/613/2020/11/In-Plain-Sight-Summary-Report.pdf
For more information about HIV self-tests and the I’m Ready research program, led by Dr. Sean Rourke and the team of REACH Nexus, visit: https://www.reachnexus.ca/highlighted/im-ready
For the latest information on BC’s HIV incidence and prevalence estimates, visit: https://smartsexresource.com/health-providers/blog/202111/hiv-incidence-and-prevalence-estimates-british-columbia-and-canada-2018
For more information about the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE), visit: http://cfenet.ubc.ca
Executive Director, PAN