Federal Health Minister Jean-Yves Duclos said on Monday that the government will invest $17.9 million to increase access to HIV testing in remote communities and among hard-to-reach populations.
But advocates working on HIV-related issues say the announcement, made at AIDS 2022, the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal, must be followed by more action.
Duclos said the government will use $8 million to fund the distribution of self-testing kits, which can be purchased anonymously and used at home, while the other $9.9 million will go toward expanding HIV testing in remote or isolated communities. from North.
“We know that HIV is preventable, but HIV infection rates remain high in Canada and beyond. Giving people access to testing, treatment and care can help reverse this trend. Removing barriers is key.” to end the AIDS pandemic, Duclos told reporters.
He said access to testing, and the treatment it enables, is more difficult in some communities, including indigenous and racialized communities.
Jody Jollimore, executive director of the Community-Based Research Center, a Vancouver-based organization that advocates for the health of people of diverse sexualities, said the announcement is a good first step.
“Obviously this was not what we expected,” Jollimore told reporters at the same news conference.
His organization is part of a coalition of community groups that has called on Ottawa to increase funding to address HIV from about $73 million a year to $100 million a year.
Jollimore said that while helping to ensure people know their HIV status is one of the most important actions the government can take, in part because treatment can prevent people from passing the disease to their partners, more action is needed. .
“On its own, it is not enough. HIV-affected communities continue to face stigma and discrimination that put us at elevated risk of HIV infection and act as a barrier to testing, treatment and care,” he said, adding that access to prevention tools, such as pre-exposure prophylaxis, is inconsistent across Canada.
He said that approximately 17,000 people in Canada have HIV but do not know their status.
Ken Monteith, executive director of a network of AIDS organizations in Quebec called COCQ-SIDA, said the federal government must also address the criminalization of non-disclosure of HIV status and sex work, as well as the war against drugs, which can make prevention difficult. more difficult.
“Criminalization, at all levels, prevents us from protecting the health of our communities,” he told reporters.
Last week, Justice Minister David Lametti said the government will consider changing the law that allows people to be prosecuted for aggravated sexual assault if they don’t disclose their HIV status, even if treatment has prevented them from transmitting the virus.
Ottawa estimates that 63,000 people are living with HIV in Canada.
Earlier Monday, the director-general of the World Health Organization told the conference that growing inequality could reverse a decade of progress in the fight against HIV.
Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus, who addressed the AIDS 2022 conference by video, said the “overlapping crises” of COVID-19, inflation and foreign aid cuts by rich countries are accelerating inequality and hurting services. of health.
While the number of HIV infections and AIDS-related deaths is much lower than a decade ago, progress could easily be reversed, he added.
Globally, about 1.5 million people were infected with HIV last year and some 650,000 deaths were related to AIDS, according to the United Nations.
“Access to life-saving prevention tools, testing and treatment, whether it’s for HIV, COVID-19 and now also monkeypox, often depends on chance: where you were born, the color of your skin and how much win,” Tedros said. .
The international AIDS conference will be held through Tuesday at Montreal’s downtown convention center, the Palais des congres de Montreal. More than 9,000 delegates from around the world were scheduled to attend in person, with another 2,000 registered to participate remotely.
AIDS conference organizers have criticized the Canadian government for denying visas to hundreds of delegates and International Development Minister Harjit Sajjan’s decision to withdraw his participation at short notice.
When asked about the visa denials, Duclos described them as a “collective tragedy.”
This report from The Canadian Press was first published on August 1, 2022