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 both in Canada and around the world. We recommit to action to end the stigma that is still a part of the challenges faced by those who contract this disease. It is only through continual education, prevention support and full access to proper health care, that we will be able stop the spread of HIV/AIDS.

While it is important to recognize that great strides have been made in HIV/AIDS prevention and treatment, it is also important to know there are an estimated 63,110 people living with the disease in Canada – 14 percent of whom remain undiagnosed and unaware of the risk they pose in spreading the disease.

Every day, two or three people in Ontario are diagnosed with HIV. 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 still so imperative.

In looking at HIV/AIDS in Ontario today, it is critical to understand that access to treatment and prevention support is not equal for everyone at risk of, or infected with the disease. First Nation’s people are disproportionately impacted by the spread of HIV/AIDS and have completely inadequate access to health care services both on reserve and in urban centres. This cannot be allowed to continue.

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 the necessary programs. With the election of the new Conservative government in Ontario, much needed harm reduction programs have been cancelled while the few that exist are at risk of losing their funding – putting even more lives at risk.

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 the disease have equal access to the health care and prevention services they need.

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 the risks from increasing.

CUPE Ontario commits to working with others in communities across Ontario to put pressure on the Ford government to ensure all the necessary funding is provided to these critical public services.