AIDS Awareness Day

File photo. (Flickr / Sidney Hunter)

In Canada, one in three people living with HIV don’t know they have the virus.

This past Friday, a World AIDS Day event was held in the Mingling Area at Brandon University, with the aim of changing those numbers. HIV is the virus that causes AIDS, which is a disease of the immune system that can be treated, but currently has no cure. The event was hosted by the Sexuality Education Resource Centre (SERC).

“World AIDS Day is actually December 1st of every year, and that kind of kick starts AIDS awareness week,” says Kaitlyn White, a Sexual and Reproductive Health Facilitator at SERC. “[It] is a global event, acknowledging HIV, and commemorating people who have lost their lives to HIV and AIDS, and [working] towards a reduction in the transmission and lowering the HIV rate.”

White stresses that while many people think HIV and AIDS is only a concern in third world countries overseas, that is not the case. “We try really hard to dispel that kind of myth. I think a lot of people think that HIV and AIDS really isn’t present here, so it’s not an issue for us here in Canada, and we know that’s absolutely not true.”

“HIV is definitely present here in Canada. In fact, every day in Canada, eleven people are newly infected with the virus, and we also have quite high rates here in Manitoba.”

One of the goals of AIDS awareness day is to get information out to people, says White. “We also estimate that 1 in 4 people don’t know their HIV status,” she notes, adding they are trying to reduce that number. “We’re here trying to provide information to people; we also have on-site testing for people to actually find out their status.”

If you don’t know your status, White encourages you to visit your family doctor for information, testing, and treatment. She says there are also many other places to go if you’re looking for more information.

“We also have public health here in Brandon, again for information, testing, and treatment. The Sexuality Education Resource Centre can also be accessed as well. We provide information, and referrals to where people could access testing. We also provide free condoms.”

White feels that it is imperative to get information out to the public. “The most important thing is just getting the message out there, because […] a lot of people are under the impression that HIV really isn’t a problem for us here in Manitoba, and even for us here in Canada, and we know that’s not true.”

“Really the information […] is key,” she says. “Getting that out there, knowing that people can be at risk, and [that] they do need to be taking measures to protect themselves.”

Republished from The Quill print edition, Volume 103, Issue 14, December 4, 2012.