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Celebrating Canada's 2SLGBTQI+ Communities

The Evolution Of CANFAR

The organization has been at the forefront of the public discussion around HIV/AIDS…

The year is 1987; Liberace passes away from an AIDS-related illness. In New York City, the direct-action advocacy group ACT UP is founded. It is in this same year that the first antiretroviral drug becomes available to treat HIV. And in Canada, almost five years since the first reported case of an HIV infection in this country, CANFAR (the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research) is founded.

The year is 1988; the first World AIDS Day – the first-ever world health day – takes place on December 1. It’s founded as an opportunity for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate those who have died from an AIDS-related illness. But it isn’t until 1991 that the Red Ribbon Campaign is created to raise awareness on World AIDS Day in support of HIV and AIDS research.

Fast-forward to the present day, 2018. This year marks 30 years since the first-ever World AIDS Day, and just over 30 years since CANFAR was founded on the principle ofcreating a support network for all Canadians affected and/or touched by HIV/AIDS. Sadly, it also marks the loss of an estimated 40 million people around the globe to the crises. But the death toll is slowing down, in part thanks to organizations like CANFAR. Over the years, the organization has funded numerous scientific studies thanks to their fundraising efforts and events, from Kisses for CANFAR to Bloor Street Entertains (The 21st edition of Bloor Street Entertains is pictured above). These fundraisers have helped the organization fund over $21 million in research, which has led to breakthroughs like the development of 3TC (a drug commonly used to treat HIV) and vaccines to reduce and prevent the progression of HIV.

But, more importantly, CANFAR has been at the forefront of contributing to and provoking the public discussion around HIV/AIDS. Over the years, the organization has led many successful public health campaigns to get people talking about an infectious disease no one wants to talk about. Each and every year for World AIDS Day, CANFAR and its AIDS Service Organization partners across Canada unite for the Voices for World AIDS Dayinitiative. This public campaign targets communities in each province and territory with deliberate engagement with youth, Indigenous populations, people living with HIV and AIDS, and government officials and health representatives.

As Alex Filiatrault, CANFAR’s chief executive director, points out, the fight is far from over.

“The reality is that HIV is still very prevalent here in Canada. There are currently more than 63,000 people living with HIV in Canada, and it is estimated that there are still over 2,000 new HIV infections that occur each year. Even more concerning is the fact that roughly a quarter of all new HIV infections in Canada are in youth within the age range of 15 to 29 years old.”

We can’t afford to be blasé about this fight, and assume that it is yesterday’s news. Thirty years on, unfortunately, CANFAR is just as necessary as at its inception. I’m sure it would be more than happy to be put out of business.

CHRISTIAN DARE is a freelance writer who spends his time between Toronto and New Orleans. He writes for numerous publications and is known for his writings on pop culture, lifestyle and design. He occasionally appears on daytime TV when not hunting for a great pair of shoes or design piece. 

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