A World AIDS Day Message from
the Ontario AIDS Network

World AIDS Day, held every year on December 1, is an opportunity for Ontario’s HIV sector to unite in our fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, to honour those with HIV who are no longer with us, and to think critically about what still needs to be done to address Ontario’s complex HIV epidemic.

UNAIDS has designated Communities make the difference as the theme for this year’s World AIDS Day. Ontario’s response to HIV has always been strongly rooted in our communities and in a collective response. A hallmark feature of that response has been the participation and leadership of people living with, vulnerable to, and affected by HIV. From the beginning of the epidemic, communities have demanded that the voices of people living with HIV, and the communities to which they belong, be heard by decision-makers and fully considered in all areas of prevention and support service delivery, as well as in research, funding and public policy. An equally important feature is a community of front-line organizations and leaders who are critical partners in our efforts to reduce new HIV transmissions and support people with HIV to live long and healthy lives free from stigma and discrimination.

Modern science has changed what it means to live with HIV. We have effective treatments that not only allow people with HIV to live a normal and productive lifespan but that also suppress viral load to the point where HIV cannot be passed on to sexual partners. We have drugs that, when taken by an HIV-negative person, can prevent transmission. We have a new and expanding toolkit for testing that can allow for early and accurate diagnosis. And we have a better understanding of the social supports and health services that people with, or at risk for, HIV need to thrive and lead long, healthy lives.

Sadly, though, despite the encouraging progress that we have made together, the benefits of that progress are not reaching everyone. Although Ontario has a strong public health care system and strong community support networks, economic, legal, social, structural and systemic barriers continue to prevent too many people from accessing equitable testing and prevention services, and the care, treatment and support they need. These barriers are compounded when a person is hungry, needs shelter, is coping with addictions or mental health issues, and is more focused on meeting their immediate needs than they are with HIV.

This is why a strong HIV sector that focuses on community engagement and advocacy remains vital if we are to ensure that all people living in Ontario receive timely and comprehensive care. A strong HIV sector also enables us to improve treatment and prevention outcomes that address people holistically, break down the social, structural and other barriers to care, and address the determinants that drive HIV infection and negative health outcomes.

Communities and front-line organizations were the first responders at the beginning of the epidemic three-and-a-half decades ago and remain essential in advocating for a robust response to the epidemic, delivering inclusive services that can reach everyone in need and tackling stigma and discrimination. Given everything we know, and if the OAN and its Members remain focused and coordinated in our efforts, we’ll be able to achieve astonishing results and will be closer to ending the HIV epidemic once and for all. 

John McCullagh, Co-Chair
Janet Rowe, Co-Chair
Shannon Ryan, Executive Director