By Saifullah Muhammad, Spoke News
Waterloo Region has joined the rest of the world to commemorate the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day as part of “Know your status” – a pioneering global health campaign.
Organized by the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo & Area (ACCKWA), the campaign kicked off on Saturday, Dec. 1, at Kitchener City Hall.
“We can talk about HIV stigma until people listen,” said Matthew Freake, the administrative assistant of ACCKWA. “And when they start listening we ask them why and what is it they are afraid of? Simply saying stigma is wrong is not enough… we need to agree on what needs to be done. We need to develop a plan,” Freake said.
“Think big but start small and act now,” he added.
The organization, which has helped people with HIV and AIDS for 30 years, offers supports and advocates on behalf of people suffering with HIV. The agency supports about 400 people a year in Waterloo Region.
“We [have] gone from a stage where we didn’t have a name for this virus,” said Ruth Cameron, the executive director of ACCKWA.
“Stigma continues to be the number one issue [for people with HIV]. That is stopping people from experiencing the supports and services that they need to get on with their lives. Now we have great medication. People can live healthy, long lives,” Cameron said.
December 2018 marks the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day – a day created to raise awareness about HIV and the resulting AIDS epidemics. Since the beginning of the epidemic, more than 70 million people have acquired the infection, and about 35 million people have died, according to the World Health Organization. Today, around 37 million people worldwide live with HIV, of whom 22 million are on treatment.
The Public Health Agency of Canada says more than 63,000 people in Canada were HIV-positive in 2016, but the advancements in medication means the disease is more manageable and people are able to live relatively normal lives.
In 2017, there were 36.9 million people globally living with HIV. Only 21.7 million were accessing antiretroviral therapy. According to the World Health Organization, this shows that globally, more efforts must be made to increase the accessibility of AIDS medication.