There are at least a few, if not many, important people with whom I need to have my own conversation about…


It’s certainly not too early to think about Mental Illness Awareness Week

When I read the Ottawa Citizen article (linked above) I immediately thought, “Mom will have read that yesterday,” and what an opening it would give me to discuss my own mental health history with her.

Not long after sobering up five+ years ago, I was diagnosed with bipolar II and, although it might seem strange, the news came as a relief to me. It helped to explain behaviour, over and above (and below) drunkenness and depression, which had dogged me most of my adult life. The eventual absence – thanks to treatment – of depression, which became hypomania, went undiagnosed for so long because I quite enjoyed said absence of depression, despite the danger, stupidity and recklessness which accompanied it.

Of course, as my 1,002 posts here can illustrate – at least in part – there’s been more going on in my life than depression so, absent or otherwise, there have been many other factors contributing to my state of being and my sense of self.

I cannot deny, and quite enjoy reporting, that seeking help – even if it took sinking to “rock bottom” to do so – has me feeling mentally stronger than I have in a long time, the occasional extraneous screw-ups notwithstanding.

For that I am truly thankful.

What to call this: P.C. fu%ks denial?

This story from Xtra! Vancouver infuriates me: AIDS groups remove ‘AIDS’ from their names.

If “AIDS” still carries too much stigma, which it does, that is what to work on, not re-branding!

I know, at 51 years of age, I am an old fart from the club kids’ point-of-view.  Well hang on to your brain cells, honey bees, because I’d stack the wisdom gained from my life experience against your knowledge any time.

In turning your back on AIDS, you’re turning your back on a generation of survivors who know what community really means, who cared for our friends (many of whom were your age), as long as they lived.  When they died, as most of them did, we collectively walked ourselves through a thousand good-byes.  We weren’t so concerned about stigma when our community was falling around us and home-care teams needed to be assembled.  And yet, to be sure, there were many examples of stigma – a harsh reality.  On an international scale Rock Hudson was on his death-bed before he admitted having AIDS.  It was after many years of the disease before President Ronald Reagan ever mentioned AIDS publicly.

I do not consider my HIV/AIDS diagnosis to be retractable.  When I had an AIDS-defining infection, cryptosporidiosis, that was very close to killing me I don’t believe the AIDS genie went back into the bottle after a long, arduous treatment.  This is not some perverse badge of honour, it is my story of survival a few years before the advent of antiretroviral therapy.

An HIV diagnosis is not what it used to be, thank goodness, but it should result in a major change in behaviour nonetheless.  Treatments have side effects you really ought to want to put off for as long as you can so a little more I-give-a-fuck is in order.

Would changing the name make you any more likely to try to avoid HIV infection?

I responded to the Xtra! article with this:

It’s behaviour that still needs changing

If I thought for one minute that removing the name AIDS would change the behaviour of kids too young to remember when AIDS was killing – dead – our friends, or would facilitate more people seeking help, or would change the lax attitude towards infection (something like “I’ll only have HIV and there’s pills for that so why should I care if I become infected?”) then I’d be all for springing for the cost of removal of AIDS from websites, letterhead and pamphlets.

Kenn Chaplin,
Toronto, Ontario

Premier McGuinty, on sexual health this is not leadership!

I’ve had a difficult time sleeping this week which I think I can safely attribute to hypomania which, in turn, has kept me busy following the news here in Ontario of promising changes to the province’s 1998 sex education curriculum. Excuse me – Health and Physical Education Curriculum. Alas the promise was dropped like a gum wrapper by a cowardly Premier Dalton McGuinty.

Just as Prime Minister Harper’s leaky trial balloon about a couple of word changes to the National Anthem sputtered across the country like a giant fart, McGuinty’s strong backing earlier in the week of proposed changes to the curriculum has dissolved like the Communion host on his warm tongue. I’m not saying it’s his Roman Catholic faith (piled on by official Bishopdom) which led to his
– there was, after all, plenty of other pressure – but, Mr. Premier, consider some of the sources!

Charles McVety?


Not surprisingly, an Islamic parents’ group made its opposition known. And I’m sure the Ontario Conference of Catholic Bishops welcomed the chance to move off the Church’s sexual abuse scandal to decry some practical, age-appropriate education about sex (and how, maybe, to rebuff the advances of pedophile priests).

Thank you, Adam Radwanski, for articulating what I’ve only managed to carry around as anger, tension, sad memories and thoughts of how my generation’s sex education might have advanced the cause of compassion, tolerance and understanding in these matters had this now-delayed curriculum been in place long ago.

Ontario’s ‘education premier’ fails on sex education

“Dalton McGuinty’s Liberals have only themselves to blame for the last-minute scrapping of the province’s new sex-ed curriculum”

McVety, whose Bible memorization school acts as his political headquarters since his religious charity shouldn’t, talks of the clear and present danger of the ‘homosexual agenda’ (What?), of how it has been our mission to infiltrate schools and indoctrinate, etc., etc. – mad fantasies dutifully echoed by his Queen’s Park lieutenant, Conservative leader Tim Hudak, whose search for an electoral base begins at the churches in parking lots across the province.

Well what if this new curriculum allowed a kid to realize, without even asking any questions since that probably wouldn’t be comfortable, that some of the different feelings s/he’s had are not to be joked about by others at recess but respectfully described in class. And, quite aside from those of us who are different, isn’t it about time schools taught kids about the joys, responsibilities and risks of sexual activitiy in this day and age of “sexting” and all sorts of stuff that today’s parents – children of the seventies and eighties – would never have imagined!

Anal sex preserves virginity. That’s what many of them tell each other! Blow-jobs are the new good night kiss. This is teenage sexuality right now – not your finest hour Mr. Premier!

The American health-care debate from an HIV patient’s perspective

I do not understand all the ins and outs of the American health-care system, neither that which existed before today’s vote in the House of Representatives nor the one after.

Here’s what I do know.

Canada has a single-payer health system for hospitalizations, doctor’s visits and related expenses such as most diagnostic tests. Coverage of pharmaceuticals remains a gap with only private insurers, usually with co-pays, covering employee benefits and only provincial governments paying for drugs for those on social assistance or those in need of “catastrophic” coverage. (In most jurisdictions, the thousands of dollars for HIV/AIDS and related drugs each month fits the definition
of “catastrophic”.) These provincial plans only came about as the result of hard work by coalitions, led by AIDS activists, in the 1990s and they vary from province to province which is why a national pharmacare plans remains a dream.

Such a plan only makes sense with hospitals, where patient drug costs are absorbed, treating only the sickest of people. Most of us are able to stay out of hospitals thanks to medications.

This month my eleven prescription medications cost $2589.72, nearly all of which the government pays (to be clear). The most expensive, because they are new and freshly-patented, are the four HIV treatments. However, with buyers as large as the governments of Canadian provinces, bulk prices are negotiated to everyone’s benefit.

My single-payer health-care allows me to visit any hospital emergency room in Canada, as well as my taxpayer-financed family doctor, my HIV specialist, my psychiatrist and my dermatologist with nothing more than the swipe of a provincial government health card.

Are there ‘uninsured’? Sure but people such as the homeless are treated in emergency departments and in street clinics as necessary.

I’m curious to know how I might have fared, these past twenty-one years of living with HIV, had I lived in the United States. I am very optimistic that the system there will change – even if not all at once – in the next few years.

On smoking, Mr. President, ‘Don’t Ask’ for a cigarette, ‘Don’t Tell’ a smoker that you want one

An Open Letter to American President Barack Obama

Dear Mr. President:

I know how difficult it is to quit smoking.  I would suggest that the mere fact that you can count on one hand the number of cigarettes you have each day is a great starting point.

Quitting is a process, at least it has been for most of us, not a one-time event.  Don’t be discouraged but please don’t be shy with sharing openly about your efforts.  Being more public about it could be a very effective tool in a national campaign.

It’s time you called out your enablers.  Who is dealing you these nicotine missiles?  I’m sure they aren’t asking you for a quarter each time, just as I’m sure you aren’t going to the corner store closest to 1600 Pennsylvania Avenue for your pack of Marlboros (or whatever). 

Another idea – make rules for yourself around smoking.  I’m sure it goes without saying that you can’t smoke in the White House.  New rule – don’t go wherever it is on the property that smoking staffers gather.  Avoid them when they’re outside.

Your smoking, however infrequent, does not meet with the approval of Michelle, Sasha or Malia.  You promised them before the election that you would stop.  Ask for their help.  Promise to ask them for permission to smoke each and every time you are tempted.  Of course you know their answer but maybe the exercise will remind you of one of the things at stake with your smoking – the example you set for your daughters.

Why don’t you ask the American people, and those of us who follow you on Facebook around the world, for help.  We could offer tips like what worked for us.  For example, when you have a craving drink ice cold water.  There’s something about that rush of refreshing cold which curbs cravings.  You have a lot of serious national and international issues on your plate  which most of us wouldn’t trade with you for the world.  However, we can help support you if you really want to quit smoking which, in my heart of hearts, I believe that you do.

I urge you to engage with us.  We’re with you – could there even be non-partisan support for you? – and I congratulate you for continuing to try to end your dependence on nicotine.

Youth for Christ partners with Winnipeg City Hall; Stephen Harper and ‘the Theo-cons’ – are we way past ‘scary’?

A dog-eared, repeatedly-read copy of The Walrus from a few years ago sits beside my comfy chair. Its cover reads “Stephen Harper and the Theo-cons: The rising clout of Canada’s religious right”

(Simon, in comments, points us to news of the author’s forthcoming book The Armageddon Factor: The Rise of Christian Nationalism in Canada)

I was reminded of the piece by my friend John in Ottawa who has a link, sans commentaires, to the article on his blog.

I commend it to your reading.

The article came to mind, again, when the Harper government’s scariness, again, broke through the Olympic celebrations.

I was invited to join a Facebook group which, too late this time, mobilized against government funding of a building in Winnipeg to be operated by the oh-so-inclusive name of Youth for Christ.

They’re not a new name in the conservative, evangelical Christian milieu and, as they themselves describe their work, they see nothing wrong with receiving public funds while proselytizing in any number of ways to the poor – immigrant, aboriginal, “at risk”.

Columnist Dan Lett of the Winnipeg Free Press, noting “the big-box Christian churches peppered around Winnipeg regularly mix politics and religion” takes us through some of the strongest misconceptions for and against public funding of such a centre.

Existing service providers, far from declining additional help in the troubled downtown, reasonably argue against this proposal.

With all the hallmarks of a George W. Bush “faith-based initiative” (which also received public money as often as Congress allowed it) this Youth for Christ initiative has some high-ranking government cheerleaders including Justice Public Safety Minister Vic Toews.

Check out Youth for Christ (Winnipeg)’s website and see if this sounds like your favourite municipal community centre.

PM Harper reneges on HIV vaccine research

When Saturday’s Globe and Mail flops down on door-steps across the country Saturday, a story will be found of our government’s cynicism and disregard for Canada’s reputation on the world stage. (Finding such a report is not usually handed to us so matter-of-factly although, given the subject matter, it’s a play to the Conservative Party base.)

Quick to campaign on the Opposition not being “up to the job”, that’s the same line the government is using to justify breaking a promise Canada made – with Bill Gates no less – the same Bill Gates who attended the International AIDS Conference held in Toronto in 2008 but which Harper did not.

Poor Mr. Harper and his flock do not like to hear about HIV/AIDS as it pertains to Canada. Bad enough they have to acknowledge the toll it takes away from our shores but to recognize that HIV is in Canada – whether among drug users who share dirty needles (which they stick in their arms!) or share crack pipes with blistered lips or – eww! – have sex (down there AND there!)…well it’s all too much for this government. Research on such matters is the last thing with which we want to bring attention to ourselves. We have a G-8 summit in Toronto to prepare for.

Way to go Mr. Harper!

I read the news today…

…oh BOY!

– but the most I can gather is that scientists may be closer to finding the best way to go after HIV in men.

I had better luck reading this at

Then I read this comment – and I was off to the races!

fixer1 wrote:Posted 2010/02/12
at 10:01 AM ET The problem we now have is that many people are dieing with aids and not from aids. back when this was all first coming out, if you got aids you would most likely be dead within five years. Now we have people living 20 years and more with the disease nd still no cure. This means that these people will cost the rest of us billions of dollars in healthcare costs and research, just so they can live a life that is viable. This was never meant to be such a large drain on resourcees but it has happened and what are the choices. Much like in Africa people die quickly from aides and that means they then are that many fewer with the problem. If they could get the new ifections under control then their numbers would drop to near zero in 5 years or so. But the facts are the people with aids are raping others to infeect them. That make this a weapon and no longer a disease. If we took a nice pacific island and made it a place to send all aids cases there and we supportted them with the drugs and the where with all to live a respectable life. We could also be an aids free country and the costs would be a tiny part of what they are today. The new infections would and should be near zero and it would not take that long to contain the diseases. As much as this sounds bad, had we done this back in 1980 and rounded up all cases and such at that point we would be nearly free of this disease today. I would prefer to have that donne to me if I were ever to get aids and I would atleast know that I am not harming others. For many form places like Africa, an island with suitiable homes and healthcare with all needs met, would be much better then the poverty they live in now and spreading the disease to others.

To which I responded:

Yes fixer1 I am robbing you blind! I was diagnosed with HIV in 1989 – 21 years ago – when AIDS patients around me were all dying. I expected to share the same fate. I left work and began to drain my employee pension and Canada Pension. The meter is still running. Sorry? Hardly!

“This was never meant to be such a large drain on resources.” Like Health Department bureaucrats pick and choose which diseases to fight and my good fortune in surviving is something I should apologize for? Sorry? Hardly!

I’ve nearly died twice and, yes, the drugs that have saved my life cost in the vicinity of $2200 per month – cost you, that is. Sorry? Hardly!

The illness has drained me physically in ways that I cannot recuperate. I’m 6’3″ tall but only 140 lbs. soaking wet. I have developed type-2 diabetes, in part due to these life-saving drugs but I’ve also lived to see my father die (rather than the other way around) and my niece and nephew have grown from babies to school-age kids who will now always remember their uncle. Sorry? Hardly!

I have never raped anyone. Ever.

Nor have I ever had the pleasure of being on a Pacific island. I’ve never even been under a palm tree but I’d rather keep it that way while remaining poor than being sent to a leper colony by you.

To recap, I’ve lived with HIV for 21 years – 18 of those with full-blown AIDS. I hope that neither you, nor anyone you love, become infected with HIV. I guess a pillar of virtue such as yourself will never have to worry about that.

The Origins of Sexually Transmitted HIV Among Men Who Have Sex with Men

Origin of HIV transmission between males pinpointed

Speech by Stephen Lewis, co-Director, AIDS-Free World, to the International AIDS Society Conference on Pathogenesis, Treatment and Prevention – Cape Town, South Africa, July 19, 2009

In my younger days, decades upon decades ago, we were consumed by the threat of nuclear annihilation. The forces of darkness, East and West, seemed in the ascendance. The Doomsday clock inched its way to midnight.

And then there arose, across a spectrum ranging from the scientists and engineers writing in the Bulletin of Atomic Scientists, through to the Physicians for the Prevention of Nuclear War, a loud clamouring cry of protest, accompanied by marches, banners, polemics, statements, press conferences demanding, in the name of humankind, that the madness end.

And it did, at least for a time at the end of the Cold War. And the scientists and doctors won Nobel Peace Prizes and showed the power of scholarly activism for the whole world to see.

Two weeks ago, just prior to the meeting of the G8, a full-page ad appeared in the Financial Times, with the headline “Scientists Call on World Leaders to Take Action on Climate Change”. It was signed by twenty-five of the most renowned climatologists and earth scientists. They didn’t get all they wanted by any means, but they jolted the political leadership into the recognition that the scientists are mobilized, are watching, are keeping the rest of the world informed and will not be silenced.

I was immediately reminded of the letter, signed by eighty-one acclaimed medical clinicians and researchers right after the Toronto AIDS conference, demanding the resignation of the then South African Minister of Health for reasons everyone in this audience understands. It was an important moment in the accelerating, cumulative pressure for a change in policy, a change now underway.

In truth, there are many in this audience who fought for that change. This is an audience that has devoted itself to making the world a better place, so I hope that what I’m about to say will comfortably resonate.

No one should underestimate the power and influence of science when it decides to take a stand. The two co-Chairs of this Conference are striking examples, amongst many, of the extraordinary impact scientists can have. And never has the exercise of power and influence been more imperative than at this moment in the fight against the AIDS pandemic. Your individual and collective voices are needed … sure, you have the technological and laboratory acumen, you know about vaccines and microbicides and triple combination therapy and viral loads and CD4 counts and pre- and post-exposure prophylaxis … the entire panoply of sophisticated scientific discovery and intervention.

And that’s your work, and it’s of inestimable value. We need you to unravel the secrets of the science, to make all of that elusive and mysterious information accessible to the untutored rest of us. But we need the scientific community as well to speak clearly, and unequivocally, boldly and evocatively to the power-brokers of this world, telling them of the risks and the benefits, and what will happen if they make the wrong choices.

Somehow, along with the science, we need the activism. They are inseparable.

So when, as now, there’s a backlash against funding for AIDS, with mindless charges against AIDS exceptionalism, you should find a way, collectively, to shoot down the pinched bureaucrats and publicity-seeking academics who advocate exchanging the health of some for the health of others – who propose robbing Peter to pay Paul rather than arguing, in principled fashion, that money must be found for every imperative, including maternal and child health, and sexual and reproductive health, and environmental health as well as all the resources required to turn the tide of the AIDS pandemic.

It can never be an either/or. We’re talking about human lives for God’s sake, not about the phony parsing of balance sheets. The Treasuries of the western nations are very artful at the divide and conquer route. We must never allow them to play one part of the health sector against the other. HIV/AIDS, for all the horrendous human consequences, has objectively strengthened health systems, has brought together all the sectors of government from agriculture to education, has integrated private and public initiatives, has exponentially raised awareness of the consequences of gender inequality, has spawned remarkably novel ideas for raising resources … all of it inevitably improving human health overall.

Believe me, if we could have back the lives we’ve lost, I’d relinquish in a heartbeat the institutional gains that flow from AIDS. But we can’t, so at least don’t undervalue or dismiss the gains.

It’s so easy for the detractors to coddle specious arguments. Rather than asking for more money, they have this punitive spasm to ransack resources for AIDS. You must not let them get away with it.

And when the G8 won’t renew its 2005 commitment to universal access; when the G8 cynically uses the financial crisis to threaten cutbacks to AIDS funding; when the G8 once again, yet again, always again subverts its own promises and in so doing compromises the health of millions, then it’s time for science to speak with one powerful voice of accusation. And when the Global Fund faces a shortfall of several billion, you would do the world a tremendous service by simply finding a way, collectively, from your positions of authority, to remind the political leadership of how they used precious public money to bail out the banks, so that Goldman Sachs could make a profit of $3.4 billion in the second quarter of 2009, JP Morgan Chase could make a profit of $2.7 billion in the same period, and with obscene contempt for the human condition, pay bonuses, yet again, beyond the dreams of hyperactive wealth.

You spend every day of your working lives to make life possible, and the power brokers devalue your work with the fraudulent plea of destitution. Don’t let them get away with it.

But funding isn’t the only issue; the issues proliferate. When the Government of Senegal jails eight gay AIDS activists for no reason except homophobia, setting back the fight against AIDS, where are the scientific voices of condemnation?

Right now, in the Caribbean, every country save the Bahamas, has laws that criminalize homosexuality. We tiptoe round this twisted form of racism. We submit to ridiculous claims of cultural relativism. The Prime Minister of Jamaica, in the safety of Parliament, makes the most contemptible statements about gay men, leaving every elemental component of human rights in tatters, and he’s never called to account … not by the UN Human Rights Council, not by the G8, not by the G20, not by the Commonwealth … only by the gay activists themselves. What is wrong with the international community? If this is how it behaves, it doesn’t deserve the name “community” at all. And if the political leadership lacks the courage to confront such outrageous slander, you shouldn’t lack the courage. You’re scientists. You know that it’s a scientific reality that a certain percentage of the world’s people is gay. So tell the political philistines to get over it and stop wrecking such damage. More, you know that an ugly homophobic culture is a threat to public health that inevitably serves to spread the virus … I beg you to say so. The majesty of science is its influence.

Then there’s the issue, commonly known as PMTCT — prevention of mother to child transmission. This should have been the easiest intervention of all, instead we’ve had a panorama of unnecessary death for both the mothers and their children. So-called PMTCT has been a colossal failure, subjected to twisted linguistics, lousy science, governmental chicanery, and astonishing delinquency on the part of United Nations agencies. Only now is the political establishment coming to its senses. But it needs your help so that it never goes off the rails again.

What help? Let me count the ways. First, never again should it be called mother-to-child transmission. It should better be called vertical transmission. How is it that we so casually, mindlessly demonize the mother by naming her as the vector? Second, even now a dreadful double standard prevails: in the industrial world we use full HAART; in the developing world we still use, in the majority, single-dose nevirapine. You’re scientists: you know what that means in terms of unnecessary infant infection and death. Third, we abandon the mothers. In 2007, only 12 per cent of pregnant women living with HIV identified during antenatal care, were assessed for their eligibility to receive ARV treatment. That’s an unconscionable neglect of women that smacks of vestigial misogyny. Fourth, the WHO/UNICEF/UNAIDS guidelines on breast-feeding, and the use of breast-milk substitutes are widely ignored. To this day, the value of exclusive breast-feeding for six months in stemming HIV infection and providing the infant with the strongest possible immunity to other diseases is still caught between conjecture and disavowal. Sometimes I think that every Minister of Health should be required to take a mandatory course from Dr. Coovadia. Failing that, the UN, and primarily UNICEF, should do its job, and mount a massive global education campaign to replace myths with facts about infant feeding. Political and cultural influences can be dead wrong where infant feeding is concerned; the scientists here assembled have an indispensable role to play in setting the world straight.

And there’s one other matter I must raise. The epidemic of domestic sexual violence that lacerates the soul of South Africa is mirrored in the pattern of grotesque raping in areas of outright conflict from Darfur to the Democratic Republic of the Congo, and in areas of contested electoral turbulence from Kenya to Zimbabwe. Inevitably, a certain percentage of the rapes transmits the virus. We don’t know how high that percentage is. We know only that women are subjected to the most dreadful double jeopardy.

The point must also be made that there’s no such thing as the enjoyment of good health for women who live in constant fear of rape. Countless strong women survive the sexual assaults that occur in the millions every year, but every rape leaves a scar; no one ever fully heals.

This business of discrimination against and oppression of women is the world’s most poisonous curse. Nowhere is it felt with greater catastrophic force than in the AIDS pandemic. This audience knows the statistics full well: you’ve chronicled them, you’ve measured them, the epidemiologists amongst you have disaggregated them. What has to happen, with one unified voice, is that the scientific community tells the political community that it must understand one incontrovertible fact of health: bringing an end to sexual violence is a vital component in bringing an end to AIDS. The brave groups of women who dare to speak up on the ground, in country after country, should not have to wage this fight in despairing and lonely isolation. They should hear the voices of scientific thunder. You understand the connections between violence against women and vulnerability to the virus. No one can challenge your understanding. Use it, I beg you, use it.

When I said at the outset that this was the most critical moment, I wasn’t indulging in rhetorical flourish. As has been pointed out time and time again, 2010 is the anointed year for universal access. We have but seventeen short months. If ever the scientific community was to engage in public activism, that time is now. Not only must we save every life we can in that seventeen months, but we have to create such energy that the tide of intervention is irreversible, and neither financial downturns nor the feckless caterwauling of the critics of AIDS funding will compromise our goal.

Make no mistake about it: that means taking on the development aristocracy and those who advise and influence it … for example, DfID in the United Kingdom, and the World Bank and the IMF and even the World Health Organization.

Pause for a moment to think what we’re dealing with. AIDS exceptionalism is a perfectly defensible and descriptive concept. Why do you think the world created an organization called UNAIDS? AIDS was exceptional. AIDS is exceptional. I tramped the high-prevalence countries of Africa for more than five years; if I wasn’t viewing the most exceptional communicable disease assault of the twentieth century, then the word “exceptional” needs to be re-defined.

As a consequence of that exceptionality, and the tremendous campaigning of grass-roots advocates, AIDS received funding, a lot of funding … never enough to be sure, but enough to recognize the exceptionality.

Then along come the detractors, driven by resentment, resentment at the success of the AIDS movement. These arithmetic arguments alleging that AIDS is getting too much money at the expense of other health imperatives … this is simply naked academic and bureaucratic envy. I know I’m not supposed to say that, but it’s got to be said.

Why? Because the critics know that it’s not a matter of pitting one aspect of health against another. The critics know that it’s a matter of measuring the resource needs of global health against the crazy expenditures that the world makes on other things. But the seething resentment that pulsates beneath the surface creates this false argument.

I urge the scientists and activists here assembled not to fight on the terrain of the poseurs. Your whole life is in the world of AIDS. You know the legitimate resource requirements. You just can’t permit an intellectual contrivance — an argument in favour of accepting the size of the pie and slicing it differently, rather than demanding a larger pie — you can’t allow that to be used to justify a terrible reversal in public policy. People infected with HIV or at risk of infection, are suddenly tossed onto the landscape of treatment ambiguity, and the gains we’ve made and the momentum we’ve achieved are put at risk.

Is my naiveté showing? Why is it not possible to allocate sufficient money for every aspect of global health, of which AIDS is but a part, and in so doing, meet the Millennium Development Goals … money which is but a fraction, a miniscule fraction of all the public dollars that have found their way, in one short year, into the bottomless pits of greed and avarice?

No one dies from a surfeit of money. People die when poverty and disease are the twin ingredients of life.

Madiba turned ninety-one yesterday. I strolled down to the waterfront here in Cape Town where people were singing and dancing and irrepressibly celebrating the life of their national treasure. This country has been through tough tough times. The numbers of deaths, the psychotic denialism, the political betrayals; it’s taken an incredible toll. And yet, in the liberation and its aftermath, and the constitution, the law, the courts, the phenomenal culture of community activism, most sublimely exemplified by the Treatment Action Campaign … in all of that, there lies hope. I saw hope everywhere yesterday. And if that tumultuous passage from despair to hope can happen here, it can happen anywhere.

But to take it to a global scale, requires the collective will of people like the people at this conference… people who speak with unimpeachable scientific authority, and if they so wished, and brought advocacy to bear, could move the mountains of resistance and inertia.

You could strike a fatal blow against the pandemic. I salute those of you who have already risen to that challenge. I leave it with all of you.

This text may be freely circulated, posted, quoted and reprinted.

Christina Magill

Executive Assistant to Stephen Lewis

Recession, broken promises posing health disaster: AIDS experts

Webcast of the entire opening session is available here.

Call it H1N1 influenza virus or swine flu – I’m staying in tonight

With the World Health Organization (WHO) listing swine flu as a 5 (on a scale of 6) – as former Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman famously barked, “Who the hell is WHO?” – this public health watch reminds some of us, and some more than others, of SARS which was ravaging Toronto six years ago.

In fact it was six years ago this very night that I came face-to-face, or face-to-mask, with Toronto’s emergency service providers at the height of SARS. For the better part of six weeks I was on the front-lines, in a hospital bed mind you, quarantined off and on from friends and family. I still fared better than those who became infected and died of SARS.

Read “Chopin, Roman Polanski, and a cab” here.

World AIDS Day – Remember and then act

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.