World AIDS Day has, for me, often been a day of reflection on the lives lost in my circle of friends – and there have been many. A visit to Toronto’s AIDS Memorial reinforces that fact.
However, it is the fact that there are fewer friends dying nowadays – fewer names being added to the Memorial each year – that fires my passion for those who still only dream of receiving the medications we have.
By “we” I mean those of us who are connected to the health care system. There are still far too many, close to home and abroad, who are not. IV drug users are too often seen as disposable, their needles not so much. The rate of infection among our First Nations peoples, directly related to the way successive settlers’ governments have treated them, is a national disgrace. As for the homeless, who really knows? Toronto’s Daily Bread Food Bank, and others elsewhere I am sure, never seem to have enough in stock to meet growing needs. When people cannot eat well, no matter where they live, caring for other aspects of health loses its priority.
We still have much to do.
Canada’s Parliament, in the sunset days of Jean Chrétien’s tenure, passed federal legislation which would allow generic drug makers to manufacture cheap copies of expensive patent-protected medicines, which could then be sent to the poorest of AIDS-affected countries. This legislation has remained caught up in red tape for years (it was even renamed by the Conservative government so as to remove Chrétien’s name – that was important, right?) with the result that not one generic drug has left Canada. (Today’s Star editorial has more to say, even some positive things, about Prime Minister Harper’s AIDS efforts.)
I am no more worthy or deserving of life-saving medications – available to me through a combination of private and public insurance – than those who do not even have access to TB cures, much less the ‘cocktails’ we take for granted. World AIDS Day allows us all to raise our voices over this injustice.