On December 1, as we mark World AIDS Day, CUPE Ontario commemorates the millions of people around the world who have died from HIV/AIDS since the illness emerged in our communities in the 1980s. We also recommit our union to fighting against the deep stigma still attached to this disease, and to continue our part in the ongoing work to ensure access to treatment for those who contract it.

Although prospects were dire for those diagnosed during those early years, when treatment options were limited and when stigma was its deepest, we have come a long way in its treatment. Now, a positive diagnosis is no longer as devastating as it once was.

But as we celebrate the ground we have gained in this fight, we also turn ourselves to the work that is left to be done towards eliminating stigma, preventing spread, and ensuring access to treatment.

In recent years, new infection rates have actually been increasing in Canada, creating an even greater need to recommit ourselves to programs and efforts that contain the spread of the illness. Discriminatory blood bans, as well as the criminalization of HIV/AIDS non-disclosure, continues.

Today, the COVID-19 pandemic has reminded us that infections like these do not affect us all equally. Disproportionate impacts are real for black and racialized folks, lower income people, women, and those with underlying health concerns – and this is true both of COVID-19 and for those living with HIV/AIDS. And HIV infection, if left untreated, weakens the immune system and can therefore render many HIV-positive individuals more susceptible to infection and death from infections like COVID-19.

In this light, the urgency of containing the spread of COVID-19 is even clearer. We need to immediately and significantly ramp up testing and contact tracing, provide front-line workers with the PPE they need, and fund the public services which are the foundation of public safety.

It’s time to shift the grounds underlying all pandemics. We’ve seen with HIV that the promise of a treatment alone is not enough if we can not ensure that everyone can enjoy equal access to it.

We need to create a world that does not endanger anyone. A world where the health and safety of people is truly the priority.  A world where the colour of your skin, or who you love, or the size of your saving, never again impedes your access to treatment. Today, on World AIDS Day, CUPE Ontario is proud to join with others fighting to bring this world into reality.

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