Statement from Dr. Marc Ouellette on World AIDS Day 2015

December 1, 2015

December 1 is World AIDS Day, a time for us to come together to support those living with the virus and remember those who have been lost.

HIV/AIDS is often thought of as a disease that affects other people in distant countries, but HIV/AIDS is a challenge for all of us in Canada, too.  Over 71,000 Canadians are living with HIV and AIDS and around 3,000 people contract the virus every year. Worse yet, one in five of those carrying the virus is unaware of their infection.

Those living with the virus are often some of the most vulnerable in society: injection drug users, sex workers and men who have sex with men.

Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week

November 30 to December 5 marks Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, a time to increase understanding about HIV/AIDS among Indigenous peoples and First Nations, Inuit and Métis leadership. There are disproportionate rates of HIV and AIDS among Indigenous peoples in Canada, which is why it is crucial to raise awareness, build partnerships and advocate for Indigenous people living with HIV and AIDS.

Indigenous peoples in particular share certain vulnerabilities to acquiring HIV/AIDS – factors like poverty, marginalization, low literacy rates, poor general health and drug use, among others. As a result, Indigenous peoples are over-represented in the HIV epidemic, in Canada and around the world.

We have come a long way in the three decades since HIV/AIDS was first identified, but the stigma attached to the virus remains a serious challenge for us to overcome. If we don't stand up to the discrimination faced by people living with HIV/AIDS, there will continue to be HIV-positive people too scared to get tested or disclose their status. I was moved by the story of a brave young woman, Ashley Murphy, who was born HIV-positive and, having witnessed first-hand the stigma that surrounds the disease, has decided to speak up, raise awareness and change attitudes.

The theme of this year's World AIDS Day is "Getting to Zero." That means zero deaths, zero new infections and zero stigma. Bringing the HIV pandemic to an end by 2030, as UNAIDS hopes to do, is a daunting challenge.

Yet for all the work that lies ahead of us, I am optimistic: at no other time in history has the prospect of defeating HIV/AIDS seemed more realistic. And it is the life-saving work of CIHR's HIV/AIDS researchers that helps make that hope possible.

CIHR is investing over $45 million per year in HIV/AIDS research. We are partnering with other government departments and agencies, like the Public Health Agency of Canada, Health Canada and Correctional Service Canada, to support Canada's response to HIV/AIDS. We are working with the Bill and Melinda Gates Foundation to develop a vaccine against the HIV virus. We are also funding clinical trials to improve therapies to treat people living with HIV/AIDS and other related illnesses, so that HIV-positive people can lead healthy, normal lives. From a lab in B.C. where researchers are developing a better way to diagnose HIV to a team in Montreal that is searching out the tissues and cell types where the HIV virus lurks, CIHR-funded researchers are making a meaningful contribution in the fight against HIV/AIDS.

I am inspired by the work CIHR's researchers are doing to better understand the social drivers of HIV/AIDS. I invite you to read about the CIHR-funded Positive Living, Positive Homes project in British Columbia, where researchers are investigating the impact stable housing has on a person's likelihood of accessing and sticking with antiretroviral treatment.

CIHR is also active on the world stage. CIHR-funded researchers in Canada are partnering with doctors and scientists in Kenya, India, South Africa, Nigeria and Botswana to advance HIV/AIDS research.

This research is important to CIHR. This fall, we launched two new funding opportunities: $2.5 million to fund 10 teams conducting innovative clinical HIV/AIDS research, and just over $1 million to fund 7 teams that will tackle HIV, hepatitis C and other sexually transmitted infections.

This World AIDS Day, let us take time to think about those affected by HIV/AIDS and recognize the inspiring work of our dedicated researchers who are striving for a future where the epidemic is no more.

Marc Ouellette, PhD
Scientific Director
CIHR Institute of Infection and Immunity

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