Debates of the Senate (Hansard)

2nd Session, 37th Parliament,
Volume 140, Issue 36

Thursday, February 13, 2003
The Honourable Dan Hays, Speaker

Pandemic of HIV/AIDS


On the Order:

Resuming debate on the inquiry of the Honourable Senator Oliver calling the attention of the Senate to the pandemic of AIDS-HIV which is sweeping across some of the most heavily populated countries in the world, such as India and China, and is in the process of killing 6,000 Africans per day, and the role that the Government of Canada could play in fighting the disease which is destroying much of the emerging third world.—(Honourable Senator Jaffer).

Hon. Mobina S.B. Jaffer: Honourable senators, I begin by drawing your attention to this important issue of AIDS. The time has passed when AIDS could be strictly a health problem. It now impacts on the social, economic, cultural and political structures of most countries.

My most memorable experience with this difficult issue came when I returned to my country of birth, Uganda, in 1990. I was shocked to discover the massive changes that the epidemic of HIV/AIDS had brought not only on the people, but the society and the country, itself.

During my trip, I went back to the park that I used to visit as a little girl every Sunday with my family. The serene landscape that I remembered was no longer there. The park was filled with homeless children who no longer had another place to stay. In the past, young people in Uganda would always be cared for by their family. The AIDS epidemic has removed not only their immediate family, but their extended family as well.

When I spoke with the children in the park, I quickly realized that they were not children any more; they had been forced to become young adults, trying to survive on the streets of Kampala. When I lived in Uganda, we had a saying: It takes a village to raise a child. There are now no villages left, and the children must raise themselves.

I tried to wrap my head around the magnitude of this disease. More than 42 million people worldwide are infected with HIV/ AIDS. That is more than the population of Canada. Yet, it is the impact that those numbers have on each village and community that is most striking. An entire generation has been lost. The young people who used to be teachers, politicians, religious leaders, farmers, poets, mothers and fathers are all sick or dying. Those who are still healthy have to take on the additional burdens of an often overstretched society.

The Canadian approach to development, as much as our approach to HIV/AIDS, cannot be addressed in isolation. AIDS contributes to problems such as chronic under development and instability. However, all of these factors also contribute to the spread of AIDS. As Senator Morin stated, this becomes a vicious cycle. These challenges will have to be addressed holistically if we are to be successful.

Although primary health care and drug programs are important, the AIDS epidemic can never be fully addressed without attention to its root causes. Canada has been a leader in integrating HIV/AIDS as a priority in multiple aspects of our development assistance program. Initiatives that reduce poverty, promote education and training, and provide employment opportunities contribute to breaking the cycle that has led to the AIDS epidemic. This all-encompassing approach brings together communities, governments, spiritual leaders and medical professionals. Yet, it is important to recognize that some populations are more vulnerable to HIV/AIDS infection than others.

From a purely biological perspective, women are three to five times more susceptible to HIV infection than men, and constitute more cases. Women also have the fastest growing rate of new infection. Again, we cannot address biology in isolation.

The power differences and socio-economic inequities that women experience increase their vulnerability to AIDS. For instance, in most societies, men customarily have the more dominant role in sexual relationships. Women are rarely in a position to insist on safe sexual practices or to refuse sexual advances. Male gender roles also contribute to this challenge by encouraging men to have multiple partners and by discouraging men from inquiring about safe sexual practices.

Moreover, because of the gaps in most societies between men and women in education, income and status, women are often dependent on men to support them and their children. Yet, because of the high infection rates, women often have to take on additional roles, such as primary breadwinner for the family, nurse for the sick and dying, and parent to the orphaned children. Therefore, addressing gender roles and power dynamics between men and women is central to dealing with the AIDS epidemic.

Canadian development assistance has focused on providing services specifically targeted at women in areas such as education, training and access to health care. We have found that improving self-confidence and informing women of their rights increases their bargaining power in sexual relationships. Furthermore, Canada’s approach tries to improve family living standards, increase employment opportunities and increase stability, all of which indirectly contribute to slowing the spread of AIDS.

Although Canada has taken a leading role, there is still much work to be done. There remains a stigma attached to AIDS that creates a barrier to openly discussing prevention and treatment. This code of silence needs to be broken. As new money becomes available, we will need to ensure that we address a broad range of issues related to the epidemic. Canada should use its influence to ensure that a multifaceted approach is used to address the diverse causes and impacts of the epidemic.

Honourable senators, we need to continue to support the excellent work that has been done to address AIDS as an integrated, community-wide issue. We need to ensure that people around the world suffering from this disease and its effects are not forgotten and that more resources are made available to assist them.

I started my intervention today by telling honourable senators about when I visited Uganda in 1990. Thirty years ago as a young bride, when I went to my husband’s village, I passed many other villages on the way. In 1990, when I went to visit my husband’s family, those villages on the way had all disappeared. That is the effect of AIDS. This is a serious issue for people the world over. With my own eyes I saw villages where there were little children and elders, but no one in the middle, nobody to care for the children or the elderly. The young adults had disappeared. That is the effect of AIDS.

I call upon all my colleagues in the Senate to ensure that addressing HIV/AIDS throughout the world remains a priority of our government.

Hon. Senators: Hear, hear!