Of course CAHR’s cornerstone remains our annual conference that has been the gathering place of Canadian HIV research excellence for over a quarter century. What started out as a small annual gathering of scientists over 25 years ago is now the meeting place for over 800 Conference goers, made up of researchers from all pillars of research, affected community members, students, policy makers, international delegates, and other interested parties.
Beyond the numbers and growing platform of CAHR, those who came to Montreal for the 26th Annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research learned that the face of the epidemic continues to change, severely impinging on the lives of different, mostly marginalized, populations. And on the research front, we continued to showcase the many advances that have made inroads in tackling the disease – from insights into the biomedical complexities of the virus, to the development of advanced clinical approaches to treat HIV, to new and diverse strategies to reduce risks for individuals and communities.
And yet, while so much has changed the relevance of CAHR and its annual Conference is just as strong as it was over 25 years ago. Thousands of new infections occur each year in Canada, and the number of people living with HIV in Canada is rising. The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that 70,000 people in Canada were living with HIV at the end of 2011, and there are over 3,000 new infections each year. Globally, more than 36.9 million people – the equivalent of the population of Canada – were living with HIV in 2014, according to the World Health Organization. Further, the fact that we still face many unresolved challenges including stigma and discrimination indicates we have much work to do in the years ahead.
While so much has been achieved, there is clearly so much more to be done. Moving forward, CAHR will be undertaking important work on a number of fronts that will continue to build the organization and address our mandate. This includes:
- ensuring the CAHR Conference model reflects the changing face of the epidemic;
- hosting new researcher workshops throughout the year that allow aspiring researchers to learn from mentors, enjoy grantscrafting sessions and receive updates from funders;
- offering support to the HIV community as a whole by running workshops on community-based research, launching additional online learning practicums in CBR and other areas of research, and offering scholarships for those wanting to attend the annual conference; and
- maintaining its focus on open and transparent communications with its membership.
Driving this agenda will be CAHR’s strategic plan, which was developed as a consequence of dedicated thought and discussion by the CAHR Board and with broad consultation with the HIV research community and our key partners.
As we look ahead, CAHR will continue to stay relevant, relying on what has become a hallmark of the association: its members’ enthusiasm, shared commitment, and great willingness to learn from each other. CAHR is your professional organization and as President, I look forward to working with you over the next two years to represent the interests of Canadian HIV researchers.
Dr. Curtis Cooper