con·sen·sus (kən-sĕn′səs) n.
1. An opinion or position reached by a group as a whole
2. General agreement or accord
Sometimes it’s not that simple – consensus in this writer’s experience has a little bit more give, take and compromise than the dictionary definition implies. But there is no doubt that many voices are more powerful than one and consensus statements, not to mention the discussions that inevitably precede them, are a proven method of moving opinion forward and on to the next step: action.
In the case of HIV treatment in Canada, the evidence seems to me to be very strong that treatment and other biomedical technologies have the potential to improve the lives of people living with and at risk for HIV, as well as reduce HIV transmission and the fears and stigmas associated with living with HIV and HIV transmission.
But it’s not quite that simple. Treatment, and access to it, inevitably raises ethical, human rights, even legal issues, about which have swirled a variety of opinions. Some would argue that discussion, while healthy, has hampered moving forward in fully taking advantage of treatment benefits, while making sure appropriate patient safeguards are in place.
Some may recall that last year, the Europeans grappled with and eventually formulated a consensus statement on the use of antiretroviral therapy in preventing HIV transmission. Positive Lite.com reported on it here and CATIE here.
PositiveLite.com looked favourably on this statement and was active in engaging key organizations in the Canadian HIV community, as well as many individuals, to sign on in support. At the same time it was recognized that a made-in-Canada statement was necessary which embodied some of the Europeans’ themes, but also expanded on the role of treatment in providing health and other benefits for people living with HIV while touching on other matters such as criminalization, which is particularly troublesome in Canada.
Thus was born a project partnering CATIE, CTAC and PositievLite.com to lead the development of a Canadian consensus statement that it’s hoped will be endorsed broadly by healthcare workers, community-based organizations and policy-makers serving the HIV community. And lead to action.
The aim? To employ a series of guiding principles based on a human rights framework. It’s important too that the end product reflects the regional and cultural diversity of this country and addresses the health and prevention implications of HIV treatment and other biomedical technologies in the Canadian context.
In any event, the first of several opportunities for people to have their say on its content is at CAHR 2015, the large Canadian Research conference being held in Toronto this year. (I will be reporting on this event.) On April 30, from 9:00 am to 12:00 noon EST, there will be an open consultation at the conference location, the Metro Toronto Convention Centre. to explore the implications of emerging HIV treatment and prevention approaches and provide feedback that will help inform the development of the consensus statement. All CAHR conference attendees as well as members of the local community who are not registered for the CAHR conference are invited to attend this interactive consultation event. (To help in planning of the event, pre-registration would be appreciated. To register, please contact Barbara Santosuosso at
Details of this CAHR ancillary event are here.
Can’t attend April 30? There will also be online consultations at later dates, and these will be advertised well in advance. The online consultations will be open to everyone and no invitation will be required. More information on the online consultations and other ways to participate will be available at the beginning of May 2015.
It's hoped that the consensus statement, once finalized, will be launched at the 2015 CATIE Forum, Making it Work: From Planning to Practice (October 15-16, 2015) at the new Delta Toronto hotel. For more information on the CATIE Forum program and important dates, please visit: http://www.catie.ca/en/forum.
All this sounds like a step in the right direction to me.