Much more work to do on AIDS funding and research
By: DAVID EBY, B.C. CIVIL LIBERTIES ASSOCIATION, 24 Hour Vancouver
Today is World AIDS Day, and there’s much to celebrate. Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (“HAART”) is dramatically extending lives of those who live with HIV. The public is increasingly educated about transmission and discrimination. Even the Pope is rethinking his church’s stand on condoms, and B.C.’s government is funding a radical and essential treatment program in partnership with the Centre for Excellence in HIV and AIDS.
But we still have so far to go.
At the local level, just a week before World AIDS Day, the Victoria Police Department issued a report that shut down a needle exchange site in Victoria. The site was taking in more dirty needles than it was distributing clean needles, was so careful and responsible that the neighbours didn’t know it was operating, and prevented many cases of transmission of HIV and Hep C.
Despite these facts, the Victoria Police Department, that itself did not know about the site for months, found the exchange to be a “problem.” You see, while the Victoria PD recognized “there is no illegal activity in the distribution of needles,” it seemed that nobody had called Chief Jamie Graham for his opinion, so that he could explain that the police had imposed their own “exclusion zone” for HIV prevention services over two blocks of Victoria. Unfortunately, that’s also where the people most at risk of HIV transmission are.
At the national level, the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network (of which I am President) has been lobbying for years to make it easier for Canada to export affordable generic medicines to developing countries, including pediatric formulations designed especially for children with HIV. A WTO-compliant private member’s bill that would ensure quality medications, not jeopardize pharmaceutical research dollars, and would not cost taxpayers a cent, recently came in front of a federal parliament committee after passing its second reading in the House of Commons.
Just weeks before World AIDS Day, five Members of Parliament sitting on the federal Industry Committee, including former astronaut and Liberal Marc Garneau, and Conservatives Mike Lake (Edmonton Mill Woods Beaumont); Peter Braid (Kitchener-Waterloo); Gordon Brown (Leeds Grenville); Dave Van Kesteren (Chatham) and B.C.’s very own Cathy McLeod (Kamloops Thompson Cariboo), joined hands with the name-brand pharmaceutical lobby and gutted the bill, pronouncing their work in the public interest finished. They have prevented mothers from getting drugs that will prevent them from passing HIV to their unborn children.
They have prevented children from getting drugs that will let them grow and live.
If it wasn’t so easy to prevent the spread of HIV and to treat people who are positive, it wouldn’t be so frustrating. But that’s the point of World AIDS Day – we can solve this crisis and save lives. It just takes education and integrity. Unfortunately for Victoria, Ottawa, and Canadians, not everyone is there yet.