“While the world is consumed by the COVID-19 pandemic, we must not forget that the HIV/AIDS pandemic is ongoing. World AIDS Day is an important moment to press for continued action to eradicate HIV/AIDS. Understanding the failures made in dealing with AIDS can help us better deal with the current pandemic. ” — Larry Brown, NUPGE President
Ottawa (1 Dec.. 2021) — December 1 marks World AIDS Day. In the midst of a global pandemic, it is important that we reflect on the last 4 decades of experience dealing with AIDS and apply those lessons to the current pandemic.
The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is End Inequalities. End AIDS. End Pandemics. The National Union of Public and General Employees (NUPGE) has been advocating for greater access to vaccines in all countries and believes that focusing on inequality is a key element in the fight against COVID-19 and AIDS. Poorer countries, those who have not been able to secure large quantities of vaccines, are witnessing higher death rates and have a greater risk of incubating new and more deadly variants.
Access to vaccines and health care a human right
NUPGE has been calling for Canada to support global access to COVID-19 vaccines by supporting an intellectual property rights waiver at the World Trade Organization. NUPGE has also joined calls for a further waiver on intellectual property rights on COVID-19 medical products. Powerful countries, including Canada, have been stalling or blocking these initiatives, and the result is that poorer countries do not have the vaccines that they need to protect their citizens. This, in turn, makes new waves and new variants inevitable. Everyone is vulnerable if COVID-19 is allowed to flourish in poor countries because wealthy countries are not willing to take a stand to ensure access for all.
Same mistakes with AIDS
The AIDS pandemic was also allowed to boil over in poorer countries as access to essential medicines was too expensive. Wealthier countries and wealthier individuals had access to the life-saving drugs. In 2000, a campaign was launched to ensure that all AIDS patients had access to life-saving medications. Countries began to produce the medications and acted against the patents. Very quickly the annual cost dropped from $22,000 to $50 in poorer countries. COVID vaccines and treatments are also out of reach for many countries: a combination of high costs and restricted production is hurting the distribution of vaccines.
End the HIV/AIDS epidemic by 2030
The third Sustainable Development Goal aims to end the HIV/AIDS pandemic by 2030. This is possible and requires a concerted effort by all governments. Similarly, the COVID pandemic needs to be stopped. The world cannot wait 40 years to tackle COVID-19. Action is needed now to get COVID vaccines and life-saving therapies to people around the world, and primarily to the poorer countries that have been shut out of access to vaccines.
NUPGE demands the Canadian government act
NUPGE fully supports governments vigorously working to control the AIDS and COVID pandemics, both within their borders and around the world. We will only be safe when all countries and the poorest people have access to necessary medications. This is possible if we focus beyond narrow self-interest and nationalism. NUPGE supports health care as a human right and calls on the Canadian government to act to ensure equitable access to these life-saving drugs.