This September 16 and 17, Montréal will play host to the 5th conference on resource replenishment for the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria. While much of the discussion will be focused on developing countries (the Global South), we believe it is important to take stock of Canadian realities. This Op-Ed was originally published in The Montreal Gazette.

We need concrete actions that show we stand with and support HIV positive people!

We want action, not just slogans!

Founded in 2002, the Global Fund to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria has played a crucial role in treatment and prevention access for these three illnesses in the Global South. Since 2008, and more precisely with the global economic crisis of that year, funding from countries in the Global North has become more precarious. France, for example, has not increased its contribution since 2012. In our current state of affairs, maintaining the status quo is backtracking. Conversely, Canada has stepped up to the plate by increasing its contribution by 20% to a total of $785 million over the next three years. This commitment is to be applauded: it proves that there is a willingness on the part of government to make Canada a leader once again on the international scene; it is also a promising reminder that increased donations will get us closer to beating these diseases once and for all.

With good leadership comes a certain amount of responsibility. It has been proven that human rights struggles are inextricable from the improvement of public health and fair access to health services. In the HIV sector, we know that gender inequality, racism, and homophobia are the breeding grounds for the epidemic. Poverty and discrimination are further barriers to access and care. As was recently pointed out by Canada’s Minister of International Development and La Francophonie Marie-Claude Bibeau, HIV has a particularly heavy impact on young women.

In order to continue to play its part as an international leader, Canada has to make good on commitments to end these epidemics here at home. We have work to do in our own back yard in order to align the fight against HIV/AIDS with human rights advocacy.

Canada in 2016 is a country with one of the highest rates of criminalization of HIV in the world. In fact, people living with HIV are still vulnerable to prison sentences for having sexual relations without disclosing their HIV status to their partners when they have taken the necessary precautions to avoid transmission (use of a condom or undetectable viral load), and when there has been no transmission. This misapplication of the law increases stigma, goes against science and UNAIDS recommendations, and should not be the case in a country that otherwise is helping lead the way.

Leadership comes from inspiring the best public policy, especially when it is supported by scientific data. In this regard, Canada must go further with respect to harm reduction approaches, which are proven to reduce rates of infection, and support the opening of supervised injection sites. Furthermore, we must work to create social and legal frameworks that help sex workers, as recommended by NGOs such as Amnesty International. It is crucial that we repeal Bill C-36, the so-called “Protection of Communities and Exploited Persons Act” that criminalizes sex work in Canada!

This major international event will also be an opportunity to highlight how these epidemics affect migrants. Mandatory testing by immigration authorities contradicts recommendations by Canadian health experts. Rejecting migrants on the basis of their HIV or health status continues to foster prejudice in this regard. Economic arguments for refusing them entry only serve to exacerbate such inequalities. It is high time to look at universal access to treatment and the real cost of its being denied to certain people.

The Global Fund Replenishment Conference to Fight AIDS, Tuberculosis, and Malaria is a very fitting time to demonstrate Canada’s financial support for countries most affected by HIV, TB, and malaria. Canada’s commitment to international aid is a solid foundation for global action on these issues: now it is time for us to lead by example in our own country. To do so, there is much work to be done before we can truly “End it. For Good.” We need concrete actions that show we stand with and support HIV positive people!

Pierre-Henri Minot & Gabriel Girard

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