By Executive Director, Tammy C. Yates
“Community” … “come”-“unity” … as I pondered over the global theme for World AIDS Day 2019, i.e. “Communities Make The Difference”, I couldn’t help, but dissect the word “Community” and think of it as “come”-“unity”. It is because of the community of people living with HIV who have been fighting for over 30 years to ensure that they receive treatment, care and support, as well as push pharmaceutical companies to develop innovative medical interventions and therapies that we are at such a pivotal juncture in the epidemic today.
The pivotal juncture I refer to is what so many in the global public health community – as well as us here in Canada – refer to as the potential “end of the HIV epidemic”. One recent article states “The expression refers to the awesome power of what’s known as biomedical prevention of HIV. As research that has emerged since 2010 has made crystal clear, not only does fully suppressing the virus with antiretrovirals (ARVs) block transmission, but when HIV-negative people take daily pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP), they reduce their risk of acquiring the virus by more than 99%.” Additionally, with 20 years of evidence demonstrating that HIV treatment is highly effective in reducing the transmission of HIV, the evidence is now clear that people living with HIV with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV sexually.
But pondering over “come”-“unity” also made me think about the communities that still tend to be marginalized and/or isolated even while we steadfastly respond to the epidemic in Canada. Indigenous, Metis and Inuit peoples; people living with disabilities; older adults; new immigrants and refugees; men who have sex with men and people who inject drugs (among others) – these groups often remain the most marginalized of the marginalized.
As the new UNAIDS Executive Director, Winnie Byanyima stated in her 2019 World AIDS Day message, “Communities make change happen … Communities are the best hope for ending AIDS because communities have fought against HIV right from the beginning … In the face of adversity, communities of gay men, sex workers and people who use drugs have organized themselves to claim their right to health as equal citizens. So, we know that communities have proved their worth. There is no debate there. ”
The challenge, I would argue, is to ensure that ALL communities are involved in the
response to HIV in a way that is most beneficial to them and is led by them. If you`re someone living
with HIV, affected by HIV, or work in the HIV sector, when you enter a room,
look around to see who is in the room and who is NOT in the room. Speak up! Let
your voice be heard! “Come”`- to the table in the spirit of – “unity” and
we`ll definitely be able to make a difference.
 Ryan, B. (2019) `The World Cannot End HIV Without Continued Innovation`, POZ online Magazine, November 24th. Available at: https://www.poz.com/article/world-end-hiv-without-continued-innovation
 Byanyima, W. 2019. World AIDS Day 2019 Message from UNAIDS Executive Director. Accessed November 28th 2019. Available from: https://www.unaids.org/en/resources/presscentre/pressreleaseandstatementarchive/2019/november/world-aids-day-2019-message-from-executive-director-winnie-byanyima