Speaking Out at Give a Day 2014

This year we’re delighted to welcome Edson Mwinjiwa and Justine Ojambo as our speakers for Give a Day 2014.

Edson is the Clinical Officer at Tisungane Clinic in Malawi. Additionally, in his role as Study Coordinator, he manages the HIV/AIDS related research projects that take place at the clinic.

Justine is the National Director and co-founder of PEFO (Pheobe Education Fund for Orphans) in Uganda. PEFO provides care and support for children who have lost one or both parents to HIV, and their caregivers, most of whom are grandmothers.

Edson and Justine will share their personal and professional experiences of working with communities in Malawi and Uganda that have been hardest hit by the AIDS pandemic; and the direct impact that the funds raised through Give a Day have had on the lives of the people they support.

Edson Mwinjiwa

Justine Ojambo

#OneDay can make the difference between a diagnosis of despair and a donation of hope

by Dr. Jane Philpott, Give a Day founder

In my family practice in Markham this week, I met with a new patient who had just been given a diagnosis of HIV infection. This is shocking news for anyone to receive. In my experience, a patient will accept a diagnosis of HIV infection with a range of responses from denial to panic to despair. It is my task to learn about each unique situation and to find out how I can help my patient to face this new challenge in the healthiest way.

I am the primary care provider for dozens of patients who carry HIV. From a medical and social perspective, these patients present with complex circumstances to be addressed. But caring for these patients (and their families) has been one of the most satisfying parts of my career in family medicine. While HIV infection remains among the most devastating diagnoses that I have to discuss with patients, I also have the privilege of offering hope. I can reassure each person that the infection is treatable. I know that when treatment is necessary, each person will be able to access the care they need. With the right treatment, it is reasonable to expect that, in Canada, a person with HIV infection will never develop AIDS.

I wish that were the case everywhere in this world. It is not. Not yet. But it could be. It is now realistic to envision a world without AIDS. I intend to do what I can to make that vision a reality as soon as possible.

In just a few days, on December 1, I will recognize World AIDS Day by making donations equivalent to one day’s pay. I will donate to two outstanding Canadian organizations that do fabulous work to assist people affected by HIV. Those organizations are the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Dignitas International.

This is the 10th year in a row that I have donated a day’s pay on World AIDS Day. I look back on those 10 years and realize how much has been accomplished in response to the AIDS pandemic. I recently reflected the evolution of “Give a Day to World AIDS”. I’m heartened to realize that the number of people who can now access antiretroviral treatment has increased almost 25-fold since Give a Day started. But there are still millions of people living with HIV who do not have access to this life-saving therapy.

With enough vision, generosity and determination, a world without AIDS is possible. One simple, practical step everyone can take is to give a day’s pay on World AIDS Day. This year, will you please support the Stephen Lewis Foundation and/or Dignitas International? One day will make a difference. On World AIDS Day, let’s not focus on the diagnosis that triggers despair. Let’s focus on the donation that offers hope. On December 1, please Give a Day.

Unlocking the potential for an AIDS-free world…by Arlene Dickinson

Arlene DickinsonWhen I think about the AIDS pandemic, I sometimes feel overwhelmed. There are 35 million people living with HIV globally. Think about it. That’s the equivalent of the entire population of Canada.

More than two-thirds of those living with HIV live in sub-Saharan Africa where there are limited resources to fight the disease. The challenges faced by these communities cannot be underestimated. When people lose their health, they lose their ability to work, to take care of their families, and to be productive members of society. HIV/AIDS is not simply a global health challenge – it also has far reaching economic implications.

But there is hope on the horizon! With the effective treatment, care and support that is now available, people are living longer, healthier lives. Communities that were once on the brink of devastation are beginning to prosper. Since 2001, new HIV infections have fallen by 33% and by 52% in children. For the first time, the possibility of an AIDS-free world in my lifetime is real.

I am inspired by the work of Canadian-based organizations Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation in responding to AIDS in Africa. These organizations, and the donors and volunteers behind them, are empowering communities to tackle the pandemic head on. I have supported both organizations for a number of years and am honoured to serve as the champion for the Give a Day campaign.

The premise of the Give a Day campaign is simple – donate one day’s pay so that the people most affected by HIV/AIDS can gain access to the support most needed. This includes frontline medical care, education and counselling about HIV prevention, distribution of food and medications, home-based care, as well as research and advocacy to improve access to treatment and quality care for families and communities affected.

To celebrate World AIDS Day on December 1st, I encourage all Canadians to mobilize as globally minded citizens and donate a day’s pay to the Give a Day campaign, in support of Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Giving one day can change the world for someone affected by HIV/AIDS. It’s a simple way to make a powerful difference.

Osler LLP Launches 2012 Give a Day Campaign

Susan Elliott of Osler, Hoskin and Harcourt LLP writes…As is our tradition on this date each year, led by Osler partner Michael Fekete we kicked off our Give a Day campaign with a lunch time event and inspiring speeches by Dr. Michael Schull, Chair of the Board of Directors of Dignitas International and Leah Teklemariam, Director of Programmes, The Stephen Lewis Foundation. Both gave personal accounts of people they have met along the way who have been helped by their work and our support.

Michael Fekete welcomes the group
In the next few weeks our offices will be percolating with contests like, Decorate Your Workspace, silent auctions, events and lots more. I continue to be amazed by what Dignitas International has done in the field and the work done at the grassroots that is supported by the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Where Do We Go From Here?

Dr. Andrew Pinto

Dr. Andrew Pinto writes…The latest update on the epidemic from UNAIDS contained a mixed message. While the “overall growth of the global AIDS epidemic appears to have stabilized” and “there are fewer AIDS-related deaths”, it is apparent that “new infections overall are still high” and the number of people living with HIV worldwide continues to increase.

What does this mean? Clearly, access to antiretroviral therapy (ART) has helped turn the tide of the AIDS pandemic and there is reason to celebrate. We should always remember that these lifesaving drugs became affordable and accessible due to community mobilization and civil society advocacy. Also essential was the development of innovative mechanisms to deliver these medications, developing and implementing new cadres of health care workers (such as the clinical officers I had the privilege to work with in Malawi) and continually holding policymakers to account. People living with HIV/AIDS were central to these efforts – a key reason why there have been many successes.

Yet, much work remains to be done. Certain groups face barriers to ART and are systematically missed. In both high and low-income countries this can include the poor, those with lower educational attainment and stigmatized groups, such as men who have sex with men in low-income countries. The current global financial crisis – created by the actions of individuals in wealthy countries – has led to reductions in assistance. In 2011, we saw donations fall for the first time ever. Worryingly, the implementation of International Monetary Fund trade regulations in India could affect the supply of generic drugs to millions in poor countries.

Despite all this, ending the pandemic is possible and should continue to be the explicit goal. This will require action globally to ensure that low-income countries have strong, sustainable health systems – that are not undermined by a “brain drain” of professionals to the North. It may seem implausible today, but countries hit hard by the epidemic should not be at the whim of the economic policies of wealthy countries. It is evident that much important work is needed in high-income countries. Canadians who want to make a difference should aim to influence policymakers at home – in an act of real solidarity with all those living with HIV/AIDS.

Andrew Pinto is a family physician and public health and preventive medicine specialist in Toronto. The views presented here are his own.