Statement from the Chief Public Health Officer of Canada on World AIDS Day and Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week
December 1, 2021 | Ottawa, ON | Public Health Agency of Canada
December 1 marks World AIDS Day and the beginning of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week. This is an opportunity for us to raise awareness of HIV and AIDS, support those living with HIV, and remember the people we have lost.
The theme of World AIDS Day this year is: End inequalities. End AIDS. End pandemics, and the theme of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week is: Indigenous Response to Intersecting Pandemics. As evidenced by these themes, it is clear that the COVID-19 pandemic has adversely impacted HIV responses in Canada and around the world.
The COVID-19 pandemic has disproportionately affected populations at higher risk for HIV, including Indigenous Peoples. Recognizing that each community has unique health needs, we will continue working with First Nations, Inuit and Métis leaders, communities, and partners, as well as provincial and territorial governments, to prioritize community-led and distinctions-based approaches to addressing HIV and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections among Indigenous Peoples.
HIV continues to be a public health concern in Canada. In 2020, 1,639 newly diagnosed cases of HIV were reported. Of these, the age group with the highest proportion of reported cases were people aged 30-39. The total number of newly reported cases in 2020 represents a 21% decrease compared to 2019. On the surface this decrease may seem like a positive shift in trend; however, in all likelihood there is a degree of under detection affecting these numbers. During the pandemic there has been an observed negative impact of COVID-19 public health measures on the delivery of, and access to, services for sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections (STBBI), including testing. Recent survey data indicates that during the pandemic one in five (21%) providers of support and treatment services for people living with HIV and/or hepatitis C experienced both a decreased demand for, and decreased ability to deliver their services. Getting tested is the gateway to both prevention and treatment services. It is the only way to know your HIV status.
There are many different places where you can get a free HIV test, such as a health clinic, doctor's office, or at a testing event. Some sites offer anonymous testing and rapid testing. For more information on where to get tested contact your local public health department or visit hiv411.ca.
In Canada, there are now also self-test kits for HIV. Community-based organizations have played a crucial role in getting HIV self-test kits in the hands of people across the country, and connecting them to health resources. HIV self-testing kits offer a safe, reliable, anonymous and confidential way for people to know their status. Self-test kits also offer a promising testing solution for people living in rural or remote communities, and Indigenous communities, where standard testing may not be available or easily accessible.
There are many preventative measures that individuals can take to lower the risk of getting HIV. Pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is a medication that people who are HIV-negative can take to help prevent them from getting HIV. In Canada, there has been an increase in the estimated number of people taking PrEP between 2016 and 2020, with the highest increase among those aged 18-24 years. People aged 25-35 years made up just over one-third of people using PrEP in 2020. I am encouraged to see such strong uptake of preventative medication, and I want to thank the health providers and community-based organizations that have worked tirelessly throughout the pandemic to encourage testing and connect people to both care and prevention resources, like PrEP.
There is also a medication called post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) that can be taken after HIV exposure, which can help prevent HIV infection. If you think you may have been recently exposed to HIV, visit a health professional right away and ask them if post-exposure prophylaxis (PEP) is right for you. PEP should be started as soon as possible after exposure, up to a maximum of 72 hours afterwards.
In 2020, the majority of newly reported HIV cases were attributed to transmission through sexual contact and through injection drug use. To reduce the risk of transmission choose safer sex methods, such as using condoms and lubricants correctly and consistently. HIV can also be passed through the sharing of needles, including equipment used for tattooing, body piercing, and acupuncture. Seeking services from professions who follow proper infection control practices, who use needles only once and dispose of them safely after use, can help reduce your risk. It is also important not to share needles or other drug use equipment.
While there is no vaccine against HIV, there are highly effective treatments that allow people to live full and healthy lives. Individuals living with HIV who are on treatment and maintain a suppressed viral load have effectively no risk of transmitting HIV to their sexual partners, which is otherwise known as Undetectable=Untransmittable, or U=U. This is a message that we must share widely to help combat the stigma that many people living with HIV still experience.
I am pleased Canada will help accelerate the HIV response domestically and globally in 2022 by hosting the 24th International AIDS Conference in Montreal, QC. This conference will bring together the HIV community, scientists, advocates, health providers, people with lived experience and others to celebrate the resilience of those living with and affected by HIV, and to discuss challenges and establish how we can work together to advance the HIV response and meet the global elimination targets.
Public Health Agency of Canada
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