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I’ve always been puzzled about how we can inspire Canadians to get engaged in the issues associated with the HIV pandemic and how we can mobilize collectively to become a vital part of the solutions. Here are some of my latest thoughts on the matter.

If you’ve read this blog lately, you’ll get a glimpse of the books that I read on my holiday. I was enriched not just by spending two weeks on the shores of Big Rideau Lake in eastern Ontario. I also devoured much food for thought from fascinating books like the recent biography of Steve Jobs by Walter Isaacson as well as “an excellent book by John Ralston Saul called “A Fair Country”.

It was a section in the latter book that got me thinking about how we could better inspire Canadians to get involved in responding to the HIV pandemic. Bear with me for a minute while I try to put Saul’s comments into a new context. The overarching theme of Saul’s book is fairness. As it relates to health care, he reminds us of how Tommy Douglas believed that by definition, the people of a civilized community should be entitled to health care. Saul goes onto say that…

“Once decent people can express the elements of fairness as if it were normal, they will more or less agree on what has to be done. What is important is our state of mind – how we imagine ourselves, whether we have the language to imagine ourselves. If we do, then what seemed difficult will now seem relatively natural. That’s what doing something intentionally means.”

Let’s break that passage down into steps:

  1. Decent people express what is fair;
  2. What is fair comes to be seen as normal;
  3. We can agree on what needs to be done;
  4. We imagine a way to do what is fair;
  5. What once seemed difficult is what we will now intentionally do!

This rational progression jumped out at me for its relevance in addressing HIV in the world. We have to start by expressing what is fair. So here goes: I believe it is not only fair but fundamentally sensible to make sure every global citizen who lives with HIV has access to appropriate anti-retroviral therapy. We could paraphrase Tommy Douglas and say: Appropriate treatment for HIV is something to which all people are entitled by virtue of belonging to a civilized global community.

There is plenty of evidence, as reported at the recent International AIDS Conference, that treatment for all makes sense scientifically. But it also makes sense from the perspective of economics, ethics and society. I propose that the decent people of Canada ought to lead the way in affirming our commitment to Access for All!

How should Canadians respond to the global AIDS pandemic? I think there are 3 ways.

1.     Support HIV-specific responses on a national/international scale

This includes an urgent need to resolve the impasse that has led to the embarrassing delay on the Access to Medicines Regime in order that Canadian generic antiretroviral drugs can be shipped to countries where they are sorely needed.

2.     Build public infrastructure responses on a national/international scale

It is now entirely clear that in order to respond to HIV in the worst-affected regions there needs to be massive and immediate investment in the infrastructure to support public health, education, transportation and communication.

3.     Promote community-based responses

In the absence of sufficient public resources in most communities affected by HIV, it is the small, innovative and responsive community-based groups who provide the most powerful support for people living with HIV. This is true in Canada and around the world. Canadians have found remarkable ways to fuel this response. This includes the Give a Day movement in which Canadians make donations to support community-based HIV care in the worst-affected areas.

Can we agree on these concepts of what needs to be done? If so, all that remains is to imagine a way to make it happen. In the hands of a motivated populace, imagination should quickly turn into genuine action. The Give a Day movement is one way to take action – to mobilize resources to enable the community-based response. I hope more Canadians will get involved at all levels of response.

The federal Minister of Health has recently articulated the government’s commitment to address the AIDS pandemic. I hope we see increasing evidence in the immediate future of their vow to work toward an AIDS-free generation. There is not a moment to waste!

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