The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) has developed a theme for Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week (AAAW) for December 1 – 6, 2017 that parallels the international theme for World AIDS Day, Right for Health:
Indigenous Right to Equitable Health Without Discrimination or Stigma
AAAW will bring awareness to the Indigenous struggle and progress with the Right to Health and how it relates to key populations such as, women, youth, and Indigenous people living with HIV and AIDS. During the week, Indigenous Peoples across Canada will share lessons learned in order to create community readiness and culturally safe approaches to testing, care and treatment.
Indigenous Peoples should have equitable access to health rights as those enjoyed by non-Indigenous Canadians. However, Indigenous Peoples in Canada have a health status that is despairingly lower than the health status of non-Indigenous Canadians. AAAW plays an essential role in communities across Canada coming together to share lessons learned to ensure sustained action from government partners and a commitment to Indigenous empowerment toward obtaining the highest attainable standard of physical and mental health.
Canada has acknowledged the importance of health to the well-being of Indigenous Peoples and recognized Indigenous rights to health in international law. The right to health includes the right to health care and encompasses the right to a culturally appropriate health care system. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission Calls to Action provide a pathway to improving the health status of Indigenous Peoples.
Leading an Indigenous Response
Solutions to addressing HIV and AIDS in Indigenous communities must come under the leadership of those who are most directly affected. We must be visionary leaders on the matter of HIV in Indigenous communities and be actively engaged in shaping our culturally safe, tailored responses to HIV and AIDS.
Testing to Know Your Status
This is a call for Indigenous communities to reduce the number of new HIV infections by promoting prevention, education, and testing. HIV is in our communities and our people continue to contract the virus – so we must stand up and take action! Getting HIV tested and knowing our status so we can get early treatment to significantly reduce the risk of AIDS and HIV transmission.
Eliminating Stigma & Discrimination
Our communities must fight against discrimination and keep the circle strong by including those living with HIV and AIDS. There must be zero tolerance for gender-based violence. We must have services that do not racially discriminate against Indigenous Peoples, which often become great barriers to getting tested, accessing treatment, and supports.
Ensuring Equitable Access
HIV is no longer a death sentence and a person may live a long healthy life if they receive proper testing, care and treatment. We must push towards zero barriers to treatment for all. We must insist that increased culturally relevant support and services are provided to Indigenous Peoples, so that they do not become isolated, can feel safe to get tested, and increase options and access to antiretroviral therapy for people living with HIV; including access to traditional medicines and ceremonies.
Protecting Our Whole Community
We must address the alarming numbers of Indigenous youth and women disproportionately impacted by the HIV and AIDS epidemic. Our youth are infected at a younger age than other Canadians – they are a generation at risk who most need our help. We must also eliminate transmission of HIV from mother to child, which means zero babies are born HIV positive. And we must work to address and to decrease preventable HIV infections among people who use drugs by meeting them where they are at and utilizing what works.
Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week is an opportunity for Indigenous Peoples, researchers, and policy makers to share wise and promising practices, learn from each other and build relationships across the country. I invite you to join us through the week, as we share lessons learned in order to create community readiness and culturally safe approaches to testing, care and treatment.
Chief Executive Officer
Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network