The Stephen Lewis Conversations – The AIDS Pandemic: Nearly Over or Still Taking a Toll

On Wednesday October 21st, 2015, the Planetary Health Commission in collaboration with the Faculty of Community Services (FCS) successfully hosted our first event, “The Stephen Lewis Conversations – The AIDS Pandemic: Nearly Over or Still Taking a Toll?” We were pleased to welcome Stephen Lewis in conversation with Dr. Alan Whiteside, who brought their vast expertise on the subject of HIV/AIDs and its continuing global controversies and impacts.

The following includes some key takeaway points from the event:
Treatment & Prevention: While the rates of AIDS-related mortalities and new infections have decreased globally, we need to continue to ensure that infected individuals can receive treatment interventions as early as possible as well as continuing to promote the necessary behavioral changes that will contribute to a decrease in the rate of new infections. There are still 32 million people living with HIV/AIDS and two million new infections every year.

Funding: In 2012, AIDS funding reached its highest rate at $19 billion, yet this is still $3-$5 billion short of the estimated $22-$24 billion that is needed in 2015. Beyond the resource gap, governments and organizations need to ensure that funding is allocated more efficiently, specifically to the community-level and grassroots organizations. Further, the process of allocating HIV/AIDs resources needs to become more transparent and accountable.

Populations at risk: It is necessary that there is a continued emphasis on promoting and shaping policies and programs for high-risk groups and minorities, such as women, the LGBTQ community, people who inject drugs and Aboriginal peoples. Professor Whiteside and Lewis specifically mentioned the risk that young adolescent girls face in many communities as well. We need to address these vulnerabilities and realities that continue to contribute to poor health outcomes for these groups.

Future Possibilities: Is it possible that we will see a cure for AIDS? At the present, this is unlikely. Currently, our focus should be on funding and research that will see the development of more efficient treatment options which could potentially mean the introduction of a vaccine or cure, but Professor Whiteside and Lewis believe this is a long way down the road.

The approach to combating HIV/AIDS speaks to how we should approach all aspects of global health – meaningfully and in a way that promotes health equity. These types of conversations are what is needed to rally the international community to successfully control HIV/AIDs by 2030 and to continue to work towards a more just and equitable world both here and abroad.

It was a remarkable evening and we thank Alan Whiteside and Stephen Lewis fort his event, as well as the Faculty of Community Services, our emcee Drs. David Zakus, respondent Jordan Tustin, and the Dean of FCS, Usha George. We thank all who attended either in person or over the live webcast. Please stay tuned for upcoming Conversations with Stephen Lewis and future Planetary Health Commission events.

The full event can be watched at: https://ryecast.ryerson.ca/34/Watch/9603.aspx

Written by: Monica Da Re
Edit by: David Zakus

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