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Robin Montgomery, Executive Director, Interagency Coalition on AIDS and Development (ICAD)
Ottawa, ON

Quel plaisir d’être ici ce matin, en présence d’un tel groupe d’amis et de nouveaux visages. Merci beaucoup d’être avec nous, en ce matin de décembre. C’est un grand plaisir de vous accueillir à notre événement, pour la Journée mondiale du sida et la Semaine de sensibilisation au sida chez les Autochtones.

It is our great pleasure to welcome you to today’s event in celebration of World AIDS Day and the launch of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week.

What is World AIDS Day? It’s a time when we pause to celebrate community, our diversity and our shared progress in the global fight against HIV.

It’s a time when we stand in solidarity with people who are living with and affected by HIV, and a time when we commemorate those who we have lost in the fight.

World AIDS Day is a moment when we stoke public awareness about what remains to be one of the world’s greatest public health and development challenges of our time – as HIV remains both a leading cause and a consequence of poverty.

But World AIDS Day is also a time when we should press the ‘pause button’ and reflect on our efforts to ask ourselves, ‘what can we be doing better?

This past June, Canada signed on to the 2016 Political Declaration on HIV – a declaration that rallied the commitment of UN Member States and partners to reach our global commitment to end HIV as a global public health threat by 2030 as part of the broader Sustainable Development Goals (SDGs).

The new and actionable Political Declaration includes a set of specific, time-bound targets and actions, known as the 90-90-90 targets, that must be achieved by 2020 if the world is to get on the Fast-Track to ending AIDS by 2030. 

The 90-90-90 targets are:

  • By 2020, 90% of all people living with HIV will know their HIV status. By knowing your status, you are able to be linked into appropriate care earlier.
  • By 2020, 90% of all people with diagnosed HIV infection will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy. Early access to therapy means better health outcomes and longer, healthier lives for the individual living with HIV.
  • By 2020, 90% of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy will have viral suppression. Viral suppression means reducing a person’s HIV viral load to undetectable levels, which translates into healthier and longer lives while significantly reducing the potential transmission of HIV.

And while we as a global health movement have undeniably made significant progress against HIV over the past 15 years with the availability of proven prevention and treatment methods — the annual number of new HIV infections among adults has remained static.  Static at an estimated 1.9 million a year since 2010 (UNAIDS, 2016). That’s 6 years!! Moreover, there has been resurgence of new HIV infections among key populations in some parts of the world (UNAIDS, 2016). 

Needless to say, there is a definite message of urgency that underscores this World AIDS Day.

The barometer is rising. While in some areas of the world we have been able to bend the trajectory downwards of new HIV infections –this is neither uniform across regions nor consistent within country borders where those at greatest risk of HIV, those who are the most marginalized in society continue to face the greatest barriers to accessing timely, quality prevention, treatment, care and support services.

This is as true in Canada as it is in other areas of the world. Key affected populations include but are not limited to: gay men and men who have sex with men, sex workers, people who use drugs, transgender people, people in prison, women and adolescent girls, young people, and as we will hear and discuss today —-  Indigenous Peoples.

The barometer is rising – we are just three years away from being called to account for our progress made towards the 2020 targets. And we still have a great distance to travel before we’re able to call it a success.

Measures to close this gap are readily available — we’ve got lots of tools in our toolbox – but what we need is an all hands-on deck approach.

Strengthened political commitment to HIV prevention is fundamental – but it is not stand alone – this must be met alongside:

  1. Strengthened and increased financial commitment in our domestic and international response —- financial commitment that is balanced between expenditures on HIV treatments, and resources allocated to scaling prevention services and efforts that get at the root social and structural causes of HIV vulnerability;
  2. A strong and well-resourced community and civil society. Strong community systems are integral to resilient health systems. Civil society organizations and community networks are often the first responders and critical partners in reaching key affected communities. They play an essential role in creating demand for and boosting uptake of health services and health-seeking behaviours (Stop AIDS Alliance and UNAIDS, 2016). The role of civil society and community systems is also widely recognized to be critical to achieving gender and human rights agendas, particularly for the most marginalized such as key populations.And, the greater and meaningful inclusion of key populations, including people living with HIV.

It is in this spirit and in solidarity with Aboriginal AIDS Awareness week, World AIDS Day, and the 16 Days of Activism to End Violence Against Women and Girls, that we are here today to celebrate, to honour, to discuss and to bring into focus promising Indigenous-led approaches to Hands up for #HIV prevention in Canada’s HIV Response.

Thank you.