December 1 marks World AIDS Day and the beginning of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week in Canada. Today, we remember the millions of people who have died as a result of AIDS in Canada and around the world. We recommit to action to end the stigma and discrimination still faced by those living with this disease. We pledge to defend full access to publicly funded health care, continual education, and prevention support in the fight to defeat the disease once and for all.

While great strides have been made in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, there are still an estimated 63,110 people living with the disease in Canada—14 percent of whom remain undiagnosed. Every day, 2-3 people in Ontario are diagnosed with HIV. Troublingly, the number of new HIV infections has increased in Canada in past years. Though it is important to remember HIV is not AIDS, left untreated, HIV may eventually lead to AIDS which is why testing and education programs are essential. First Nations, low-income, trans people, and racialized communities are disproportionately impacted by the spread of HIV/AIDS and often have inadequate access to health care services.

While the medical and scientific community has identified the need for a harm reduction approach to treating addiction and preventing the spread of diseases such as HIV/AIDS, our governments have been slow to fund necessary programs. With the election of the Ford Conservatives in Ontario, much needed harm reduction programs such as supervised consumption sites and overdose prevention sites have been closed while others are at risk of losing their funding—jeopardizing even more lives.

Though the daily impact HIV/AIDS has on the lives of tens of thousands of people in Ontario may no longer be on the front page of our newspapers, we cannot become complacent. We must work to ensure that all people living with the disease and at risk of contracting it have equal access to the health care and prevention services they need.
While it is important to recognize the great strides have been made in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, we still face obstacles. We must prepare for the reality that more cuts to health care are coming from the Ford Conservatives—we know the Tories’ fiscal plans have deep cuts coming for the foreseeable future.

The cuts to safe injection sites is a perfect example. More than 100 health groups collaborated on an open letter to the Ford Conservatives urging them to reconsider their position on overdose prevention sites. The Canadian Aids Society and the Canadian Medical Association asked the Ford Conservatives to “heed the recommendations of experts in public health, front line clinicians, harm reduction staff and people with lived experience of drug use.” Providing clean needles decreases the spread of HIV and Hepatitis C, which is to the strong benefit of the entire population. The Ford Conservatives need to recognize that needle exchange programs do not encourage drug use. It is a proven life-saving measure and must reinstated. We cannot allow this government to jeopardize our public health.

We commit not only to fighting back against cuts in communities across the province but working to ensure increases in funding so that all programs and services that help deal with HIV/AIDS are available to all people no matter where they live in Ontario. HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to increase awareness, fight prejudice, improve education and a continued investment in proper healthcare. This is the only way we will be able to stop the spread of AIDS across the globe.

Today, we honour all the CUPE Ontario members who play a front-line role in the fight to prevent new infections and treat those with the disease to put an end to AIDS-related deaths. Our members in health care, social services, and AIDS service agencies work to treat, raise awareness, and change the conditions that are contributing to the spread of HIV and AIDS. The work they do not only helps those at risk but also prevents those risks from increasing.

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