Now, we can look back proudly on all that has been achieved in AIDS research in Canada
By Dr. Norbert Gilmore
As a founding member of the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR), and a doctor working in the area of HIV and AIDS, I could never have imagined that we would have achieved all that we have today.
In the 1980s, my colleagues and I knew that something needed to be done to stop this new disease. It seemed like every day patients would become infected, and many were dying quickly. A large number of Canadians were focused on providing care for HIV-positive patients, while others were trying to raise awareness about this new virus that the world had yet to understand. This left us with research. Research can apply to almost every sector of the HIV world; how to educate people about HIV, how to prevent the spread of HIV, how to care for those who are infected, and how to treat the diseases that HIV produces.
Since day one, the mission of CANFAR has been a very simple one: raise funds for HIV and AIDS research in Canada – and do it right! Our goal was to help find a cure for the disease that was claiming so many lives around us. In 1987, the year that CANFAR was incorporated, Canada saw 524 AIDS-related deaths; this number increased by hundreds for several years afterward.
Now, we can look back proudly on all that has been achieved in AIDS research in Canada. CANFAR has been very successful in promoting and supporting research, and its efforts have made a big difference.
For Canadians living with HIV, medications are now so effective that they are able to live long, productive, and seemingly normal lives. This means if our success continues, we’ll eventually put ourselves out of business. And isn’t that the ultimate goal?
AIDS continues to evolve, demanding more research. Today we are treating people earlier in their infection to keep them alive and healthy, especially by preventing injury to their immune systems. Treatments are becoming more and more powerful and simpler to use, yet they often come with complications. HIV-positive patients who are getting older – and who may have been on medications for 20 or more years – are at risk of chronic side-effects, such as memory loss, cancer, and liver disease. Despite our successes, we are met with new challenges everyday.
The reality is that people are still having unprotected sex and HIV is still a big issue in our country. A quarter of Canadians with HIV are not aware that they are infected. We need to make sure that AIDS awareness and prevention remains relevant in our communities.
I know that AIDS won’t end easily or immediately. We’ve discovered and developed tools and knowledge which has put us on a very encouraging path; it is still not enough. The hunt for a cure or an effective vaccine continues to be the priority of Canadian researchers, but we cannot do it alone.
I am honoured to have been a part of the beginning of CANFAR and to bare witness to the impact of research. However, I would be even more honoured to be a part of the end of CANFAR – and therefore – the end of AIDS.