AIDS walk brings out support

For John MacTavish, acting executive director of HIV/AIDS Regional Services (HARS), fundraising is about more than just numbers.

“Whether you’ve got five people or 100, you get out there, raise awareness and have some fun ... and we’re doing that here tonight,” he said.

Almost 50 members of the University and Kingston communities came together Sunday evening for the 14th annual AIDS Walk For Life to raise money for HARS and increase awareness about HIV/AIDS in the local community.

HARS provides education and support to individuals affected by HIV/AIDS and promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and education in Kingston and the surrounding area. HARS is based in Kingston, but its catchment area is Belleville to the west, Brockville to the east and Sharbot Lake to the north.

With a lantern in hand, Marney McDiarmid, MA ’99 and education coordinator for HARS, led the walk. The group started at McDonald Park, near King and Barrie streets, at 7 p.m. and toured around and through City Park.

Tony Piper, a representative of Outinkingston.org, a website dedicated to listing lesbian, gay, bisexual and transgender (LGBT) activities in Kingston, made it clear why he was walking on Sunday.

“There’s a very distinct connection between what we’re doing here today and what will happen tomorrow when someone walks through the doors at HARS,” he said.

“This particular walk is important for Kingston because although HARS receives funding from various levels of government, the one bit of work they do that really stands out is that they allow people to drop in, get support and guidance.

“Invariably, those people need other things.”

MacTavish said there are people who go to HARS who can’t afford a pair of mittens in the winter, who can’t afford to feed themselves, or who need new sheets because of the night sweats they suffer with AIDS.

“Amazingly, unless they have full benefits, they can’t get funding for this,” he said. “But HARS has a compassion fund, which helps people in those practical ways.” Mandy Moore, ArtSci ’07 and co-chair of the ASUS AIDS Awareness Committee, said she was concerned about the attitude many students hold about HIV/AIDS.

“I think people view HIV/AIDS as something that doesn’t directly affect them,” Moore said.

In addition to the ASUS AIDS Awareness Committee, there was also a contingent of students representing the Development Studies class “AIDS, Power and Poverty” (DEVS 320).

Marc Epprecht, the professor of the class, said it is important to remind people that HIV/AIDS is still around in North America.

“HIV/AIDS has fallen off the radar in Canada,” he said. “There was a report last year that showed Ontario high school students have an amazing amount of incorrect information [regarding HIV/AIDS]. A huge percentage of high school students thought there was a cure. This kind of thing reminds people that there isn’t a cure and that HIV/AIDS is still a major issue.”

Jeff Piker, TA for DEVS 320 and former education coordinator at HARS, said people’s attention to HIV/AIDS in North America is declining year by year.

“[The walk] is never as big as I think it should be, and each year it seems to be a little bit smaller,” he said. “The number of people infected in Canada is going up, but our attention is elsewhere. I think we have a short attention span in North America for causes like this.”

Piker also said he felt HIV/AIDS is the most highly stigmatized disease of our time and people would rather not talk about it.

Joseph Babcock, a Kingston resident and member of the Ontario AIDS Network, said he agreed.

“The stigma and discrimination that exists in North America is crazy,” he said. “I’m an HIV-positive man and I’m able to show my face here at this walk, but a lot of people can’t.

“I think something happened in the mid-’90s with the invention of the proteinase inhibitor ... people started to live, people were no longer dying of HIV/AIDS. There wasn’t the visual impact of death all the time. But people are still dying and we seem to have forgotten that.”

McDiarmid said showing public support for the issue gives it a significant boost.

“It certainly makes you feel that there is more of a community of people who are working together against HIV/AIDS,” she said.

As the walk came to a close, MacTavish said he was satisfied.

“Every dollar raised is a dollar raised,” he said. “Of course it would be nice to have double, triple the size, but people came out tonight, raised awareness, raised some money and had a great time.”

HIV/AIDS in Canada

• 56,000 people in Canada are living with HIV/AIDS.

• 30 per cent of those living with HIV/AIDS are unaware of their condition.

• In 2003, 2,482 Canadians were diagnosed with HIV.

• Youth between ages 15-29 accounted for 27.3 per cent of all positive HIV test reports in Canada from 1985 to 2003.

• The number of women with positive HIV test reports increased from 9 per cent in 1992 to 25 per cent in 2003.

• 44 per cent of Ontario HIV test reports were positive from 1985 to 2003, while in British Columbia, 20.9 per cent of HIV test results were positive.

• For more information on HIV/AIDS or HARS, visit www.hars.ca.

—Source: actoronto.org

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