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.
When 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.
I'm facing AIDS by studying Public Health!
Dr. Winnie Siu writes…I am marking World AIDS Day in London, UK this year where I’m undertaking a master’s program at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
An American classmate took this picture of me yesterday. Inspired by a campaign in the U.S., she encouraged me to complete the phrase “Facing AIDS” by turning it into a personalized sentence. The idea was to post the picture in a social media forum in order to reduce stigma against HIV. I don’t have Facebook or Twitter, so I’m posting it here.
I spent this past May working as a family medicine resident physician on the paediatrics ward of a hospital in rural Malawi. It was my first time returning to sub-Saharan Africa since a deeply moving journey to Zambia in 2008. And though I was not specifically working in the area of HIV, it still permeated everything I did and thought about; it was the explicit and implicit cause and result of so many other medical, social, political, structural, economic, ethical and equity issues.
One of the biggest reasons why, after completing my residency in family medicine, I am back in school this year studying public health is because I realized that I am woefully unequipped to disentangle these complexities. Therefore, I am facing AIDS in a classroom this year, through textbooks and lectures and impassioned discussions with my diverse classmates, some of whom come from areas where they face the reality of AIDS every day.
At times the classroom learning seems so distant and too theoretical, and I itch to get back on the field. I long to face AIDS by working and being face-to-face with those affected by AIDS. But, dreams take work and patience too. So, I read and listen, question and analyze, debate and learn. And I do this hoping that I can one day face AIDS equipped with the knowledge and skills to offer practical, positive change.
This guest post is contributed by Dr. Winnie Siu. She is a Canadian physician currently working on a Masters program at the London School of Hygiene and Tropical Medicine.
Two years ago in my World AIDS Day message, I talked about K’naan and how I wanted to write a rap song about HIV. This year, I’ve picked a song from a different artist that expresses my sentiments about the ongoing challenge of the HIV pandemic. It’s a song by the brilliant Jason Mraz and the theme is this… I Won’t Give Up!
Caring about the issue of HIV can be discouraging at times. This has been a particularly emotional week. Each year, around this time, UNAIDS releases a World AIDS Day update. As you read the report, you could end up feeling overwhelmed by the enormity of this pandemic that continues to wreak havoc for individuals, families and communities across the globe. Despite the daunting statistics and the personal tragedies that I have witnessed, I remain an obstinate optimist – using the report to look for the signs of positive progress. I note for instance that new HIV infections in children are 43% lower than in 2003, before the Give a Day movement had started. This news brings tangible evidence that the elimination of new infections in children is possible.
But this week carried with it some unique emotional low points. Just as we celebrate that 8 million people in the world now have access to anti-retroviral therapy, we realize equal numbers of people – who need those medications right now to stay alive – don’t have access. And Canadians have reason to feel particularly disheartened this week because the initiative to fix Canada’s flawed regime for sending low-priced generic medicines to less-resourced countries was defeated in the House of Commons. We walked away from an extraordinary opportunity to help save lives.
…which brings me to the Jason Mraz song that speaks to the need to persevere, saying…
“I won’t give up
I don’t wanna be someone who walks away so easily,
I’m here to stay and make the difference that I can make
Our differences they do a lot to teach us how to use the tools and gifts we got, yeah, we got a lot at stake”
Indeed when it comes to the HIV pandemic, there is a lot at stake. In 2012, no one should live or die with AIDS. The need to act is as urgent as it has ever been in the 30 years since this pandemic was described. We cannot give up. We cannot walk away so easily. We must respond somehow.
That’s why I’m proud to remind you about Give a Day. It is a movement of ordinary Canadians who recognize World AIDS Day each year and they respond in a practical way. These concerned global citizens give one day’s pay to organizations that put those resources to good use in the communities most affected by HIV. To date, Give a Day has raised over $3.5 million for the two recipients that we recommend: the Stephen Lewis Foundation and Dignitas International.
Please join me in expressing your commitment to the people and places most affected by HIV. On December 1, World AIDS Day, please Give a Day. In the words of Jason Mraz…
I won’t give up.
"I am HIV POSITIVE and I am on treatment"
Dr. Lorna Adams writes…Very soon it will be December 1, World Aids Day. A time to once again think about the pandemic in Africa, the management of it and the devastation of it. We can think about the ways that we in this amazing country of Canada can help those that are working to support people living with HIV/AIDS, to decrease the new infection rate and to treat adults and children already infected.
I have worked with both organizations that Give a Day supports, both directly in Malawi with Dignitas International, and indirectly with the Stephen Lewis Foundation. I have seen the remarkable transformation that occurs when people are able to be treated with the appropriate medications, and when grandmothers are assisted in raising their grandchildren who have been orphaned by the illness of their parents. I have seen when people are able to overcome the stigma of an AIDS diagnosis, and go out in public to openly assist those currently trapped with the shame and stigma of the diagnosis.
I met this woman on a bus in Zimbabwe, a country thoroughly traumatized by an ineffectual government, and the AIDS pandemic. The stigma of the disease is reinforced by the limited access to effective treatment. Once people are on treatment, have put on some weight, have returned to work, and have regained a sense of dignity and control of their lives, they are much more comfortable letting others know of their diagnosis, and encouraging others to come forward to be tested and treated. I asked her if I could take her picture, and use it to assist in raising awareness and funds to fight the pandemic. I told her that it meant that this picture would be public, for all to see. She looked at me, and smiled, and said, “I am already advertising my HIV positive status with my shirt, Madam”. Yes, I said, and thank you.
Please, consider the amazing change that your donation of just one day’s pay could effect for so many of those affected by HIV/AIDS in Africa.
This guest post is contributed by Dr. Lorna Adams. She is a physician currently working at Southlake Regional Health Centre and a volunteer with Doctors Without Borders (Medecins Sans Frontieres/MSF). She recently returned from working with MSF in South Sudan.