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Aboriginal AIDS Awareness week starts on December 1st, which is also World AIDS Day. It highlights the increasing rates of HIV infection amongst the Aboriginal Peoples within Canada.

HIV and AIDS hits hardest in areas of the world where structural economic and development challenges are greatest. This is mirrored in Canada: Aboriginal people are overrepresented among reported AIDS cases and made up a startling 23.4% of new HIV infections in 2006. Their infection rate is 2.8 times higher than for non-Aboriginal people.

To launch the week, the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) is hosting a special presentation luncheon on December 1st in Vancouver. The event will gather National Aboriginal organizations, labour representatives – including member of CUPE’s National Aboriginal Council Trudy Spiller –, government delegates, and health care providers to speak to Aboriginal issues and discuss the challenges that are experienced in accessing HIV and AIDS care treatment and support.

“Universal access to HIV prevention, treatment, care, and support is a critical part of Aboriginal rights,” said Ken Clement, CEO of Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. “Our event will create a platform for us to explore legal, federal and moral obligations to provide those basic health services to the Aboriginal people - First Nations, Métis and Inuit – who make up a unique segment of the concentrated HIV and AIDS epidemic in Canada.”

HIV and AIDS from an aboriginal point of view have been discussed by CUPE in 2009 at its May HIV and AIDS Strategic Planning Meeting. Also, at the November 14-15 Aboriginal Council Inaugural Gathering in Winnipeg, CUPE National Aboriginal Council member Roger Procyk co-presented a solutions-oriented workshop.

“In short, labour’s approach to reduce the risk of HIV for Canadian Aboriginal peoples is to improve their socio-economic conditions: by educating, training, and employing the burgeoning Aboriginal youth population,” said Procyk.