This year the AIDS Committee of Guelph & Wellington County reaches two significant milestones: A 25 year anniversary and a name change.
The AIDS Committee of Guelph will now operate as ARCH: HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health. For us, this name change exemplifies the fact that over the years we've expanded our scope and reach considerably. Our catchment area has grown well beyond Guelph and Wellington County and we are now able to provide more in-depth programs and outreach to people living with and affected by HIV.
While our name change reflects many internal changes at our agency, I feel that this name change also signifies an important moment in time – and not just for our own community. Many other Canadian AIDS Service Organizations (ASO's) are rebranding as well, and this signifies the sea change we have experienced in our response to HIV and AIDS.
The AIDS Committee of Guelph, like many ASOs, began as committees of people in response to a crisis. Often the work involved supporting people who were dying of AIDS. Today we have become sustainable and professional organizations that provide a breadth of holistic services that improve the legal and social conditions for people living with and at risk to HIV. We collectively aim to improve the quality of life for people living with HIV, for example by cultivating leadership, supporting healthy sexual relationships and deepening community engagement.
We are becoming more and more equipped to address some of the greater complexities involved in HIV risk, for example by addressing homophobia and syndemic factors among gay men, utilizing new technologies and online social networks, and advocating for the legal rights of people living with or at risk to HIV.
Most of us agree that part of the change we’ve experienced is due to the medical advancement of HIV medications, which have vastly contributed to extending the life of people living with HIV. The current life-expectancy for a newly diagnosed, healthy Canadian is 40-60 years. The risk of vertical transmission (with proper HIV care) is less than 1%.
Though the dramatic breakthroughs in the treatment of HIV have vastly changed the HIV landscape, ASOs have also played a significant role. ASOs have certainly played an important role in HIV education and prevention, but what’s more, we have helped to support the social, economic, mental and physical health needs of people living with HIV, which increases capacity to access and adhere to medication.
The challenges that we face ahead are not trivial. As I’ve written before, addressing stubborn issues like stigma is endlessly challenging. We have much to learn about the long-term effects of medications. And our long-term health care facilities are woefully unprepared for the aging population. We have yet to see a vaccine or cure. But nor are the breakthroughs in this field trivial.
For us, this rebranding marks a significant milestone, a time in which to look back, and a time to look forward. While our name and our look have changed, our vision has not. We dream of a time and place where everyone is free to live healthy, vital lives.