On Sept. 22 the 16th annual Nanaimo Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life was held at Maffeo Sutton Park. The event is part of a larger national awareness and fundraising attempt that takes place in communities across Canada.
There are an estimated 1400 people on Vancouver Island affected by HIV/AIDS but the event has slipped from the community’s consciousness.
When AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI) hosted the event last year on the VIU campus, only six participants showed up. This year, a modest all-ages crowd walked the promenade to raise awareness for HIV/AIDS in Nanaimo. Tents were set up by AVI which featured everything from pamphlets to children’s games.
Dana Becker, who manages the AVI health centre, says that people may have stopped talking about HIV/AIDS due to the advancements in treating the diseases.
“I think it’s gone under the radar a little bit. I think as the treatments have progressed and there is more success and people are living longer that there is less of a feeling of emergency. I think it is perceived as more as a chronic illness,” Becker says. “Of course we don’t know because the people that have been on treatment for 20–30 years are doing ok but we don’t really know what the long term effects of being on those medications are because we’re still in that process.”
Eric Berndt, Communications and Public Relations Officer for AVI agrees with Becker. “People tend to think that AIDS is not a problem anymore because there are treatments available and you can’t often visibly tell if someone is living with HIV/ AIDS.”
He says that HIV/AIDS awareness should be in the public conscious because there are an estimated 20 thousand Canadians living with HIV that don’t know it. Last year alone AVI educated around 4000 people about various topics ranging from the basics, to harm reduction, hepatitis C, and stigma reduction.
“AIDS is still a highly stigmatizing topic and people don’t want to talk about it and we’re trying to change that at AVI.” Brendt says that one of the ways to de-stigmatize HIV/AIDS is the discreet 60-second testing available at AVI.
“We want to normalize the testing; to some people there are still a lot of barriers to getting tested. I think a lot of people don’t get tested because they don’t want to wait and they don’t want to know but you can find out right then and there and have access to medication. We know now that if we can get the disease early, as early as possible, and get on treatment it’s no longer a death sentence, it’s more like a chronic disease,” Brendt says.
Mayor John Ruttan was present at the event. He says, “AIDS is a very serious disease worldwide and it can only be overcome with recognition and the chance to display support for those people who are working so hard to eradicate it. I think that it’s events such as this that return the focus back to [AIDS]. You need to keep reminding people of the need to get involved because without a commitment, without an involvement from as many people as possible, nothing will happen. I’m just so pleased that this was a great day for Nanaimo and a great day for those who are trying to overcome this dreaded disease.”
All money raised at the walk will be used to further AVI services in Nanaimo.
For more infromation on AVI visit their website at <www.avi.org>.