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Although researchers have traced the origins of HIV as far back as the 1930s, the first diagnosis of AIDS was not made until 1981. The following year, the first case of AIDS was diagnosed in Canada. The first Canadian death attributed to AIDS occurred in 1983, and approximately 21,000 people in Canada have since died while infected with HIV or AIDS.
HIV/AIDS first appeared in Canada as a disease in the gay male population and in people infected through the blood supply. In response to this new threat, the gay community mobilized into small, volunteer-based organizations in the early 1980s, with AIDS Vancouver and the AIDS Committee of Toronto being incorporated as the first community-based AIDS organizations in Canada.
As the threat of HIV/AIDS grew, however, governments at all levels, the health care system, non-governmental organizations, researchers and other sectors of society became engaged. Today, literally hundreds of groups and thousands of individuals - including numerous volunteers - are engaged in the Canadian response to HIV/AIDS.
The face of HIV/AIDS has changed dramatically in Canada over the past quarter century. Canada’s HIV/AIDS epidemic is now actually several epidemics, occurring in specific populations. Although men who have sex with men (gay men and homosexually active men) continue to be the population most affected by HIV/AIDS, the disease has also become a significant public health issue for injecting drug users, women, Aboriginal peoples, prison inmates, people from countries where HIV is endemic, as well as those already living with HIV/AIDS. Risk behaviour data on young Canadians also show significant potential for HIV transmission among youth.
Through the combined efforts of many collaborators - governments, people living with HIV/AIDS, populations affected by the epidemic, civil society, professionals working in health care, education and social and legal services, researchers and the private sector - Canada can point to a number of important successes during the past two decades.
For example, mother-to-child transmission of HIV has been nearly eliminated in Canada. The progress of the epidemic has been slowed recently among certain populations (e.g. injection drug users), and treatment advancements have prolonged and improved the quality of life of many Canadians living with HIV. Canada's blood system has been made as safe as possible from contamination by HIV and other infectious diseases, and steps have been taken to increase public awareness about HIV/AIDS and to tackle societal stigma and discrimination around the disease.
Nevertheless, the epidemic continues to grow in Canada, taking a tragic and unnecessary toll on some of the most marginalized populations in the country. Until a safe and effective vaccine is developed for HIV, and a cure found for AIDS, HIV/AIDS will remain a public health concern for all Canadians.