AIDS2022, the world’s largest conference on HIV and AIDS, will convene leading scientists, policy makers and grassroots activists in Montreal from July 29 to August 2, 2022. It is taking place in Canada for the first time in almost 20 years. In 1989, the International AIDS Conference was in Montreal and it is remembered as the moment when advocacy first took centre stage; the 1996 International AIDS Conference happened in Vancouver – where the efficacy of triple combination antiretroviral therapy was first reported; and the 2006 International AIDS Conference was held in Toronto, with a focus on accountability. 

When it comes to rates of new HIV infections, Canada ranks among the worst in the G7. Every day, four Canadians contract HIV; one in 10 people living with HIV in Canada do not know their status, and Canada is still the only developed nation experiencing climbing HIV rates among women. Furthermore, Canada is home to a crisis that disproportionately affects Indigenous people who account for nearly one quarter of new HIV diagnoses in Canada, despite making up just over four per cent of the population. Other developed countries are making significant progress in ending new cases of HIV and in reaching the UNAIDS 95-95-95 targets. Canada has the means and expertise necessary to achieve these results; however, we need a national action plan.

CANFAR, the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research, is Canada’s leading independent voice for HIV/AIDS research. The foundation is calling for important changes and an action plan to end HIV in Canada. CANFAR’s participation in AIDS2022 will allow the organization to showcase Canadian HIV research excellence and present a clear path to ending new cases of HIV. CANFAR will also be engaging with the youth community around HIV prevention, and fighting stigma through the promotion of its Sexfluent initiative. 

Two CANFAR-supported initiatives developed by Dr. Sean Rourke, Clinical Neuropsychologist and Scientist with MAP Centre for Urban Health Solutions at St. Michael’s Hospital, Unity Health Toronto whose research with REACH Nexus succeeded in getting Canada’s first HIV self-test approved, will also be showcased; first, the “I’m Ready” program which actively raises awareness for and promotes the importance of self-testing; and “Our Healthbox”, “smart” dispensing machines in the community which allow individuals to access free HIV self-tests and harm-reduction supplies including clean needles and naloxone, allowing easy access to care for those who need it, with a reduced risk of stigma. 

CANFAR’s action plan targets ending the HIV/AIDS epidemic in our country by 2025through a national leadership task force with a clear mandate. Specifically,CANFAR is proposing that the following actions to be put in place,as a path to end HIV in Canada:

  • Public health education campaigns to raise awareness about the importance of HIV testing and for everyone to “know their status,” as well campaigns to reduce HIV stigma and the structural barriers in health inequities which continue to exist and limit access to care and treatment for those who are the most vulnerable and marginalized. 
  • Establishing accountability to put an end to new rates of HIV infections with a quarterly target and a scorecard that will track and openly communicate the progress to reach the 95-95-95 cascade targets for all key populations affected, working with all key stakeholders to achieve this by 2025. 
  • Implementation and scaling-up of HIV testing modalities needed to reach the undiagnosed, and to ensure the equitable access to treatment for those diagnosed who are not connected to care with culturally appropriate care pathways that people can access in their communities. 
  • Universal coverage and free access to antiretroviral treatment for persons who are diagnosed with HIV and for those in need of prevention (pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP) to stay HIV negative. 

About the Author

Bryen Dunn is a freelance journalist with a focus on travel, lifestyle, entertainment and hospitality. He has an extensive portfolio of celebrity interviews with musicians, actors and other public personalities. He enjoys discovering delicious eats, tasting spirited treats, and being mesmerized by musical beats.