Fighting the stigma on World AIDS Day in Red Deer

Fighting the stigma associated with HIV-AIDS isn’t easy, but that doesn’t stop people from trying.

Many gathered at the Collicutt Centre on Dec. 1 to mark World AIDS Day, honouring those who have lost their lives and recognizing those still battling the disease.

Jennifer Vanderschaeghe, Turning Point executive director, remembers her first experience volunteering at an AIDS clinic in the mid-1990s.

“In my first full year there, I helped bury 12 of my friends, including two guys who died during Thanksgiving weekend,” said Vanderschaeghe.

“I spent a lot of time going to funerals that year. If the HIV movement has taught me one thing, it’s what multiple loss feels like and how imperative it is to manage it.”

One of the misconceptions about living with HIV-AIDS is that it will kill you, but Vanderschaeghe said that isn’t necessarily the case anymore, especially in Canada.

“People with HIV are living much longer as we have more access to HIV treatment. It means people can live a longer lifespan and be more healthy,” said Vanderschaeghe.

However, on an international level, Vanderschaeghe said many other countries are still struggling with the basic need of diagnosis.

“We haven’t seen as much impact in Canada like some other countries, but it’s important to be aware that people (around the world) are still living without knowing their HIV status. They’re dying from HIV because they have no access to testing and no access to treatment,” said Vanderschaeghe.

Even though HIV-AIDS isn’t new to Canada, Vanderschaeghe said people still don’t know much about it. She said a day devoted to spreading awareness is extremely important.

“Here we are years after HIV was identified and people still don’t know how it’s transmitted. We’re still at a basic level when it comes to talking to people on how it’s transmitted, how it can be prevented and ways to support people living with HIV,” said Vanderschaeghe.

Red Deer’s HIV organizations Turning Point and GrammaLink-Africa collaborated for the event, which included a four-minute flash mob.

An estimated 84,000 Canadians were living with HIV, as well as AIDS, at the end of 2011, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

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