An HQ reflection for World’s AIDS Day 2022
Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of HQ Toronto
December 01, 2022 — [Toronto] I’m John McCullagh, Co-Chair of the Board of Directors of HQ Toronto, and a person living with HIV.
World AIDS Day, held every year on December 1, is a day to unite in the fight to end the epidemic of new HIV transmissions, to support people living with HIV, and to honour those who’ve lost their lives to AIDS. It’s also an opportunity to reflect not only on what we’ve already achieved but also what we still need to do.
In Canada, December 1 also launches the start of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week, when we acknowledge the contributions of Indigenous communities in ending the epidemic, and the impacts of colonization that have led to disproportionate levels of HIV in Indigenous communities. We also acknowledge that the need for culturally responsive and community-informed HIV treatment, care and services is critical.
This year’s UNAIDS theme for World AIDS Day is Equalize, reminding us that HIV thrives where inequities persist. But these inequities are not inevitable; we can tackle them.
The good news is that, of the 12,000 gay, bisexual and other men who have sex with men living with HIV in Ontario, 87% are on treatment, and 98% of those are virally suppressed. Yet this success is unequal. For example, the percentage of gay men newly diagnosed with HIV has decreased more for white men than for racialized men. This is likely because many of the barriers to success include systemic racism and exclusion that undermine access to prevention, care and treatment. These barriers are significant and leave people without vital social and economic resources and disproportionately vulnerable to serious health and social problems. This has led to many such individuals “falling between the cracks” of the HIV prevention and care cascade: untested, untreated, virally unsuppressed, or lost to follow-up.
We have only eight years left before the 2030 UNAIDS goal of ending AIDS as a global health threat. That goal can only be achieved if we address the inequities that drive HIV.
This is why the Equalize theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is important. It reminds us that HIV thrives where inequities persist, be they a lack of access to the social and economic determinants of health; racism, homophobia, and transphobia; or intersecting epidemics such as COVID-19, syphilis, and the poisoned drug supply. All require intersectional responses.
The Equalize theme is a call to action. It is a prompt for all of us to work for the proven practical actions needed to address inequalities and help end HIV and AIDS, here in Toronto, across Canada, and throughout the world. Now is the moment for bold leadership for equal societies and the right to health for all.
This World AIDS Day let us all get involved in sharing the message that we’ll all benefit when we tackle inequalities. To make new HIV transmissions rare, to support those living with HIV, to keep us all safe, and to protect everyone’s health, we need to Equalize.