Three stories worth appreciating this World AIDS Day

world-aids-dayWith each impending World AIDS Day, I tend to take stock of how far we are from where we need to be. The litany of injustices requiring redress, empirically proven measures awaiting implementation, solutions hampered only by the narrow interests of those holding political power—these can occupy a lot of mental space.

But Canada has seen some good stories of late, and think it’s worth highlighting them as ways we can continue to push forward and build healthier communities. Here are three developments worth appreciating.

Sexual health supergroup emerges on the scene

Intriguing changes in the national health landscape have arisen from Ottawa, where three organizations joined forces to create a central agency in support of the sexual and reproductive health movement in Canada.

Action Canada for Sexual Health and Rights picks up where the Canadian Federation for Sexual Health, Action Canada for Population and Development, and Canadians for Choice leave off. This merger of complementary agendas and resources could set the stage for powerful and progressive advocacy in the area of sexual and reproductive health, from which the country could certainly benefit.

In conjunction with the release of the United Nations Population Fund’s youth-focused State of World Population Report 2014, Action Canada issued a press release, which included the following passage:

Governments have an obligation to realize young people’s sexual and reproductive rights. These obligations are embodied in national laws and international human rights treaties; yet violations of young people’s and adolescents’ rights persist. In this regard, Canada has an obligation both through its development assistance, but also here at home.

New Brunswick schedules abortion access for 2015

On January 1, New Brunswick will finally provide more readily available abortion services, now that the requirement to have two doctors sign off on an abortion has been scrapped, and a doctor no longer has to be a specialist in order to perform an abortion.

Although abortions are approved only for hospitals, they will be classified as an insured medical procedure.

Last summer the only private abortion clinic in New Brunswick, the Morgentaler clinic in Fredericton, shut down, forcing individuals to travel out of province to cities such as Montreal and even to the United States. Abortion services in Maine reported a swell in the number of patients arriving from New Brunswick. One staff member was quoted in the Globe and Mail as worried about the people “who can’t do that – who can’t get time off from work, who can’t find childcare, who can’t afford the fees or don’t have a passport.”

“To have to leave your country? I don’t know, that doesn’t seem right to me.”

Vancouver patients get the prescription heroin they need

Providence Health Care and five patients are engaged in a court battle to access essential medical treatment, which the Canadian government wants to deny. In the meantime, the BC Supreme Court has granted an injunction allowing the patients to receive the treatment while the case is heard.

A year ago I wrote about this group of patients fighting to continue the medical treatment that had changed their lives. Conventional treatments had failed to alleviate their opiate dependence, whereas heroin-assisted treatment showed clear beneficial outcomes, as documented through research. Yet after the study ended, patients were offered only those treatments, such as methadone therapy, that hadn’t worked in the first place.

Receiving heroin under medical supervision provided a foundation of stability; knowing they had reliable access to the drug freed patients to concentrate on other concerns. They improved their finances, participated less in illegal activities, and better developed their relationships with friends and family.