Open Letter to Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Minister of Canada

December 1, 2015

Dear Honourable Dr. Jane Philpott, Health Minister of Canada:

AIDS ACTION NOW!  is a Toronto-based activist organization established in 1988 to fight for an end to the AIDS epidemic. We were instrumental in convincing the Federal government to establish the first National AIDS Strategy in 1990. We were also central to the campaign that led to the development of the Trillium Drug Program in Ontario in 1995.

We call on you to take swift action to re-establish a formal and effective National HIV Strategy in Canada after so many years of government neglect.  We also call on you to build a National Pharmacare Program.

Despite advances in HIV prevention and treatment, many people continue to become infected with HIV every year in Canada. Further, many people living with HIV in Canada face a decreased quality of life due to HIV stigma and comorbidities. HIV stigma manifests and is fuelled through underemployment, social rejection, the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure (in most cases in the absence of actual virus transmission), and a host of other social factors.

Our renewed National HIV Strategy requires collaborative insight from a variety of stakeholders and decision-makers in order to establish Canada as a global leader in the HIV movement through advancing an evidence-based, effective and progressive National HIV Strategy. An effective strategy will require meaningful engagement and consultation with populations disproportionately affected by the HIV crisis in Canada, including Indigenous peoples, gay/bisexual men and other men who have sex with men, women, youth, trans* persons, sex workers, individuals from the racialized and African/Caribbean/Black communities, past and current prisoners, individuals who use drugs, and refugees and non-status persons who face limited healthcare access in Canada. The voices of people living with HIV are integral to the process of putting together a renewed National HIV Strategy. Its implementation will require the support of national and provincial partners, lawmakers, policy experts and community groups.

We call on you to take the first step to advance a renewed National HIV Strategy by calling a national consultation centred on populations disproportionately affected by HIV, followed by a meeting of high-level health, political, legal, and community experts to set out a path for implementing the resulting recommendations. As an independent group of concerned citizens, AIDS ACTION NOW! is willing to support your efforts to seek out and engage an appropriate diversity of informed community representation.

We are also calling on you to build a National Pharmacare Program.  There are barriers to HIV treatments as well as other necessary medicines that make treatment hard to access for a number of Canadians. The current patchwork of drug programs across the country and provinces is insufficient to meets these needs, and they introduce bureaucratic and costly barriers to important treatments that often limit migration and affect decision-making about employment for people living with HIV.

An effective National HIV Strategy cannot be restricted by the mandate of your ministry. It will require coordination across the board with other relevant areas of responsibility. We also call on you to commit to:

  • Taking leadership in putting an end to the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure.
  • Decriminalizing drug use.
  • Decriminalizing sex work.
  • Adoption of harm reduction as a guiding principle for government policy.
  • Making needle exchange access in Federal prisons a priority.
  • Supporting the creation of safer consumption/injection sites across the country.
  • Working toward the creation of a National Pharmacare Program.
  • Creating a national housing strategy to address the effects of wealth disparity and poverty.
  • Addressing the social, economic and infrastructural drivers that continue to place Indigenous peoples and communities at a disproportionate risk for HIV.
  • Ensuring that refugees and non-status persons living with HIV have access to equitable health and pharmacare.

Your new government provides Canada will an unprecedented opportunity to challenge this epidemic. We look forward to working with you to make AIDS in Canada history.

Yours in justice,

AIDS ACTION NOW!

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