Help us reach our goal of eliminating the HIV epidemic by 2025
Dear CANFAR Community,
We are living in extraordinary times. COVID-19 is having an impact on each and every one of us, as well as our economy, and the very way we interact with each other.
The world’s attention is necessarily on defeating COVID-19. Political leaders and public health officials in this country and elsewhere implore citizens to “Listen to the science!”, as our knowledge of the novel coronavirus increases, and regulations and guidelines are updated.
Even as we fight this new pandemic, we cannot forget the other great unresolved pandemic of our time, HIV and AIDS. Over the past 35 years, more than 33 million lives have been lost to this virus. Thanks to scientific research led by many of the same doctors and researchers who are trying to understand and solve the coronavirus crisis, HIV today has become a chronic illness, with treatments available that allow most people to live full, productive lives.
As you know, however, there is still no vaccine or cure, and Canada is one of the last Western nations where the rate of new infections continues to rise stubbornly year after year. In 2018, for example, new infections in Canada were up 23 per cent since 2015, while in the UK they were down by 28 per cent. The reason for this is that Canada has not had the necessary leadership, we have not had a nationally coordinated and actionable strategy, and our HIV testing capacity falls far short of international practice.
CANFAR and our partners have “listened to the science”, and Canada does in fact have all the tools we need to reduce new HIV infections to below epidemic levels by 2025. This is especially true now that HIV self-testing has been approved by Health Canada earlier this month, following an extensive study funded in part by CANFAR. The approval of self-testing represents a major breakthrough in our fight to end the epidemic, but its successful roll-out is key if we are to ensure all Canadians have access to testing as well as proper treatment and care. As we continue to fund research into all aspects of HIV and AIDS, we also have an enormous opportunity to effectively end the HIV epidemic in Canada in the next five years – and I hope you will consider joining me to support this exciting endeavour.
The roadmap to accomplish our objective is clear, and has four steps:
Ensure that everyone has access to HIV self-testing and knows their HIV status. In Canada, 14 per cent of those who are HIV positive don’t know it, and because they are not diagnosed, they continue to spread the disease. To that end, through the leadership of CANFAR’s Strategic Implementation Consultant, Dr. Sean Rourke, we have been actively leading now successful efforts to secure Health Canada approval for home self-test kits. More than 30 countries have already implemented HIV self-testing. We need to make sure that all Canadians have access to self-testing as well — regardless of their social position, race, sexual orientation, economic status or where they live.
Ensure that, depending on the outcome of the HIV test, one of two things happen immediately: 1) provide those who test positive access to the best care possible, including access to life-saving antiretrovirals; and 2) get those who test negative but who are at risk for HIV on to PrEP or PEP. Research has shown that HIV can be blocked if a medication regime of pre-exposure prophylactics – known as PrEP – or post-exposure prophylactics – called PEP – is followed. Short of a vaccine, these interventions are the most powerful and successful measures to stop the transmission of HIV. For this reason, CANFAR is working to ensure there are no inequities in the availability of and access to PrEP and PEP for those who need it most, anywhere across this country.
We need state-of-the-art clinics to support rapid testing and access to care. Beginning in Toronto, CANFAR is working with other AIDS groups to develop a best-in-class clinic that can serve not only the local community, but all of Ontario. Once established, this model can be rolled out to key regions across the country.
Finally, we need to ensure that target populations are aware of these new opportunities to stay safe from HIV infection, take advantage of prevention interventions like PrEP, and get quick access to the best care when that is needed. Working with partners, CANFAR is developing national awareness campaigns that reach even the most vulnerable and stigmatised populations across the country.
We have indeed listened to the science and I am asking for your support so together we can effectively end the fight against HIV/AIDS by 2025. We have created the CANFAR2025 campaign for this purpose. I encourage you to join this campaign with a generous donation so that future generations can live free of HIV and AIDS.
With thanks for your consideration.
Andrew Pringle CM
Chair, Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research
PS Find out more on CANFAR2025 and the report of CANFAR’s National Working Group on HIV and AIDS in Canada (chaired by University of Alberta President Bill Flanagan).