What can one person hope to accomplish on one day?

by Dr. Jane Philpott, Give a Day founder

Dr-JanePhilpottWhen confronted with a massive global crisis, it’s tempting to feel powerless. But when you see that massive crisis through the face of its individual victims, you sense an irrepressible urge to find some practical way to respond. That’s what inspired an idea that would grow into the campaign we now call “Give a Day to World AIDS.”

I will always remember the night, 10 years ago, when I first pitched the idea of Give a Day. I had recently returned to Canada after living in West Africa for a decade. I had seen the devastation caused by the AIDS pandemic in sub-Saharan Africa. AIDS took the life of the director of the hospital where we had worked in Niger, leaving his young family without a husband and father. He was one of countless young adults whose lives were cut short in the community where we lived. In those days, anti-retroviral treatment was rarely available in West Africa. A diagnosis of HIV infection meant agonizing illness and inevitable death.

Here in suburban Ontario, as a family doctor, I began to care for a few patients with HIV and was thankful for the resources that were available. But I could not stop thinking about millions of people in sub-Saharan African who did not have access to the same treatment. In 2004, less than half a million people in the world had access to life-saving anti-retroviral therapy for HIV infection.

Thankfully, someone gave me a platform and I took it. A local surgeon, Dr. Paddy Whelan, invited me to speak at a Medical Staff Association dinner. I talked to my physician-colleagues at Markham Stouffville Hospital. We talked about the state of the AIDS pandemic. My colleagues felt tremendous compassion. We needed a practical way to express that concern. So I made a simple proposal. I said: “World AIDS Day is December 1. What if we decided on that day, that we are working on behalf of people living with HIV? What if we each calculate how much money we earn in a day and give it to a great organization supporting people affected by HIV?” My colleagues responded with generosity. People handed me cheques and credit card numbers. On December 1st 2004, the doctors of Markham Stouffville Hospital gave over $33,000 to the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Give a Day was born.

The Give a Day campaign has grown tremendously since then. It has spread through medical, legal and business communities. Dozens of incredible volunteers have shared the Give a Day challenge with their colleagues. Each year since 2004, hundreds of people give one day’s pay to great organizations like Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation. Nearly $4 million has been raised to support the people and places most affected by HIV.

The state of the pandemic has changed in 10 years. While there are over 35 million people living with HIV, the number of new infections and the number of AIDS deaths declines each year. Over 10 million people now have access to treatment. The global community has made progress. But still, over 4000 people die every day from this preventable and treatable illness. It’s hardly time to relax.

The best news from Give a Day is about how much one person can do on one day. Robert Kennedy once advised against “the belief there is nothing one man or one woman can do against the enormous array of the world’s ills.” Indeed he went on to say that: “It is from the numberless diverse acts of courage and belief that human history is shaped. Each time a man or woman stands up for an ideal, or acts to improve the lot of others, or strikes out against injustice, he sends a tiny ripple of hope, and crossing each other from a million different centers of energy and daring, those ripples build a current which can sweep down the mightiest walls of oppression and resistance.”

One person on one day can accomplish a huge amount of good, in the same way that single ripples can join to build a mighty current. When we join colleagues, friends and acquaintances across the country in giving one day’s pay on World AIDS Day, the collective effect is tremendous. It means that considerable resources are channeled into Canadian organizations that use the money effectively to address the pandemic. But it also means that we refuse to feel powerless. We refuse to do nothing. We insist on making a contribution and challenging others to do the same. This year, on December 1, I urge you to join the effort. Please Give a Day to World AIDS.

Dr. Jane Philpott is a family doctor in Markham, Ontario. She is the founder of Give a Day to World AIDS.

90-90-90: A three-fold attack on HIV/AIDS

by Dr. Rajiv Singal, Dignitas International Board Member

Dr Rajiv Singal

We know how far a day’s pay can go for ourselves – imagine the difference it can make for a person living with HIV in a resource-limited country. I first heard of Give a Day several years ago when my friend and fellow Dignitas Board member Jennifer Keenan invited me to an event. That night I met the founder of Give a Day, Dr Jane Philpott. I subsequently organized my own event with Dr. Eleanor Colledge at Toronto East General Hospital. The simple premise of the campaign is to donate a day’s pay to Dignitas International and/or the Stephen Lewis Foundation in an effort to combat the scourge of HIV/AIDS in the developing world. The current crisis with Ebola highlights that it is in all of our interests to ensure that people everywhere have access to decent medical care.

Recently, UNAIDS and WHO estimated that there were 35 million people living with HIV/AIDS. A staggering 22 million people, 63% of those infected, are still without access to anti-retroviral treatment. While significant strides have been made since 2003, we are not even remotely close to the end of the epidemic.

As we look ahead, new strategies are being adopted to prevent new transmission of HIV/AIDS and improve the health and lifespans of those living with the disease. In September, UNAIDS announced 90-90-90: a threefold attack on HIV/AIDS. This strategy sets to meet three goals by 2020.

First, 90% of all people living with HIV must know their status – this means more HIV tests, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa, where only about half of all people living with HIV are aware of their positive status. This along with better public education could have a profound effect on disease transmission.

Secondly, 90% of HIV-positive people will start and sustain anti-retroviral treatment.

Finally, of those on anti-retroviral treatment, 90% will have viral load suppression. In other words, the virus will be sufficiently suppressed in order for them to lead healthy and productive lives while also reducing the probability of transmission to others.

If we make these targets a reality by 2020, UNAIDS predicts 73% of those living with HIV/AIDS will be virally suppressed. Nevertheless many hurdles remain. Stigma and discrimination, persistent in the social structure of sub-Saharan Africa still deters many people from HIV testing and treatment. Accessibility to treatment, particularly in rural communities, also remains a profound obstacle. Finally, funding for HIV treatment and programs must be strong and consistent. Robust international assistance is essential to keep building momentum towards the end of AIDS. The health of the developed world is ultimately linked to the health of the most vulnerable.

Every day, we make positive strides towards the end of HIV/AIDS, but on Give a Day, we have an opportunity to impact further. An AIDS-free generation is in sight, but only if we work for it. We must not let this opportunity slip away.

On December 1, please consider donating a day’s pay to Dignitas International and/or the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Give a Day Photo Exhibit 2014

by Anne Connelly, Dignitas International


I always look forward to the holidays. But between Black Friday, Cyber Monday, and the rush of holiday shopping, sometimes the true meaning of the holidays gets lost in the shuffle. Give a Day serves as a poignant reminder of the season’s spirit of generosity and the profound impact it can have. It urges all Canadians to give just one day’s pay to an organization dedicated to fighting HIV/AIDS. One donation can save a life, and when we all contribute, the difference we can make is transformational.

To commemorate World AIDS Day, this year the Give a Day campaign will launch a photo exhibit in First Canadian Place on November 24th.

This photo exhibit honours the 10th anniversary of Give a Day. It captures the meaningful change that happens when funding and support goes to innovative and resourceful organizations in Africa working to beat back the ravages of the AIDS pandemic. Each photo is a snapshot of how the response on the frontlines has grown and holistically evolved and how, with a modicum of support, lives have been transformed. The photos and commentary highlight the work of the Give a Day partner organizations, Dignitas International and the Stephen Lewis Foundation.

Please take a walk through the lobby of First Canadian Place between November 24 and December 1 to see the powerful photos on display. They’re the inspiring proof that our support really does make a difference.

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.