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A CUPE delegation attended the 19th International AIDS Conference last week in Washington, D.C. Gerry Lavallée, a member of CUPE 4092 and the National Pink Triangle Committee, shares his reflections.


As the AIDS epidemic enters its fourth decade, I find myself wandering the halls of the Washington Convention Center at the 19th International AIDS Conference with a renewed sense of hope. Although 34 million people are still living with HIV/AIDS, there is a shift with the success of treatment that is prolonging lives and helping fight new HIV infections.

Having said that, stigma has become a huge problem and it is clear to me that some of the battles are shifting towards fighting the stigmas associated with HIV infection. According to the U.S. Centers for Disease Control, stigma has become a major contributor to the spread of HIV. It keeps people from seeking information, speaking openly, using condoms and from getting tested.

About 25 per cent of those who are HIV-positive in the Western world don’t know it. When people don’t know they are infected, they won’t seek treatment or take steps to protect themselves - and are likely to expose others to the virus.

Unfortunately, in many parts of the world, the response to HIV has been and continues to be stigma and discrimination. This stigma and discrimination started in the early years of the epidemic, when myths and fallacies were spread wide and far. In some cases, the media was largely responsible for spreading misinformation.

In 1987, the U.S. Senate voted unanimously to prevent HIV-positive people from traveling or immigrating to the United States. This ban was based solely on prejudice rather than public health concerns. In 2008, the HIV visa ban was finally overturned by the U.S. Congress. While this shameful piece of legislation was finally corrected, it heightened fear and ignorance and managed to cause a tremendous amount of damage.

Today, we understand the sheer absurdity of those actions. However it is important to note that there are still no less than 46 countries and territories with some form of restriction on the entry, stay and residence of people living with HIV/AIDS. These restrictions are based on fear, discrimination and the ongoing stigmatization of people living with HIV. This has to end!

The only way that we can get people to go for testing is to implement the kind of public health programs that will tear down the negative myths and perceptions associated with HIV/AIDS.

I’m proud to be a part of a CUPE delegation that is here to learn about how we as a union can best help in the fight against these stigmas and human rights infractions.