AIDS is still a thing; it is not an anachronism from the ’80s. Infection rates persist, yet awareness falls short of where it arguably should be. In the battleground of public attention, the stigma of sex and old prejudices smart like a wound, exiling the disease to the semi-fringes of public discussion. It involves icky feelings of blame and shame that don’t come with cancer, feelings that may not be justified but exist nonetheless. For that reason, awareness is especially important, because shame is a penalty as unjust as AIDS itself. There are several organizations currently working to rectify the situation, and of them, The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) is known for doing things a little differently.


CANFAR was founded 25 years ago in 1987 and just recognized their anniversary last October. Its Have a Heart program began humbly as an annual concert in 1993. CANFAR is Canada’s only charitable organization dedicated to AIDS research.   Because of campaigns like Have a Heart, CANFAR grew into what it is now – an established charity of national scope, in the business of disseminating potentially life-saving information. Funded by private and corporate donors, it operates outside government bureaucracy, with a consequent nimbleness that allows it to explore more radical initiatives that might otherwise be overlooked.

One of CANFAR’s most notable programs is its Have a Heart campaign, which targets youth and young adults.  A full re-launch as the edgier, perhaps more accessible, Kisses4CANFAR campaign. Last year, Have a Heart, managed to accrue 1.56 million participants across 2,500 Canadian schools. While successful, two decades of the same approach can justify a change. Considering the target audience, the foundation hopped on board the social-media train and turned up the risqué.

The concept is simple. Participants are asked to wear red lipstick (or a red lip temporary tattoo) for two weeks while raising funds for AIDS research. The purpose behind the approach is to take highly visible action. The impact of bold, fun declarations of support go a long way to de-stigmatize the issue and encourage open discussion.

While CANFAR’s awareness campaigns give the foundation visibility, CANFAR’s importance comes from the grants it funds through its private and corporate donors. These grants have been used to help fund research on a number of different medical breakthroughs, where the most notable one has resulted in the reduction of mother-to-child transmission to almost 0%. Behind that number is a tangible group of people who dodged what could have been a life of daily drug cocktails. There are many other medical advancements that CANFAR has helped facilitate – enough, that to list them here would be impractical.

Charity is a careful balance between funding projects, medical and otherwise, which provide the most tangible benefits, and awareness, which serves to oil the engine of public intrigue from which charities fill their coffers. CANFAR manages to find equilibrium between these two things, with a track record of impactful action across many fields. The Kisses4CANFAR program marks the next step in their now decades-long campaign against AIDS. Consider participating, if not this year, then the next. Help CANFAR achieve the end goal of any charity: bringing about its own obsolescence.