26 septembre 2023

World AIDS Day events call to “Act Against Indifference”

Although the war against HIV/AIDS has been in the public eye for 25 years, the battle on this World AIDS Day is being fought against apathy towards the virus, as much as the virus itself.


Although the war against HIV/AIDS has been in the public eye for 25 years, the battle on this World AIDS Day is being fought against apathy towards the virus, as much as the virus itself.
“I think that over the last several years, especially in the developed world and Montreal in particular, we have noticed that people are increasingly indifferent towards HIV,” said Ken Moneith, spokesperson for the December 1st 2006 Collective for People Living with HIV. “They think that it is happening somewhere else and not in their own community and we need to show how organizations and individuals are taking action, but also a call to the public to get past their indifference and realize that HIV is a problem.”
Events are being held within Concordia University, throughout Montreal and across the world to gather in solidarity and to counterbalance the lack of understanding that still surrounds HIV/AIDS. This year, the theme of World AIDS Day will be a call to “Act Against Indifference.”
The December 1st 2006 Collective for People Living with HIV—a coalition of 18 organizations across the island—will hold a civic vigil in Montreal’s Parc de l’Espoir to address these issues publicly and to hear the stories of those who face the reality of HIV/AIDS every day.
“The vigil on Friday has a triple goal: we’re there to remember our losses. We’re there to express solidarity with people living with HIV, and to draw the public’s attention to the importance of prevention,” said Moneith.
At Concordia, student groups are rallying to arrange AIDS Awareness Week activities from Nov. 29 to Dec. 1 with events that include distributing information and condoms, tabling on the mezz, a movie night, a Worldwide HIV/AIDS panel discussion and a Spread the Word NOT the Virus Benefit Concert at Reggie’s.
AIDS Awareness Week Coordinator Clara Kwan stressed that although AIDS is not a new issue, it is as important now as it ever was. “Speaking from experience, I don’t think that a lot of people in our age group are aware that HIV is still quite relevant to our everyday lives. We’re talking about the health of students and it’s very important that we push for testing.”
Father Paul Amegashie will be taking part in AIDS Awareness Week by addressing the African AIDS Pandemic in a Q & A session given at Concordia’s Loyola campus.
Amegashie, who has recently joined Concordia’s Multi-faith Chaplaincy, will be speaking about his experiences working with youth groups as a priest in Africa. Originally from Togo, Amegashie has also worked in AIDS awareness programs in parishes throughout South Africa, where according to UNAIDS, 12 per cent of the population is living with the virus.
“Here [in Canada] you don’t see it at all. In South Africa, in North Africa, in Central Africa, you see it, naturally. Over there, as a priest, you see it in people every day, so you know what is going on. Here it is completely different,” said Amegashie.
Breaking the stigmas
Despite the media attention HIV/AIDS has received throughout the years and the medical treatments that have become available, the stigmas associated with the virus have not disappeared, said Moneith. “There are stigmas in our society around sexuality and certainly drug use. There is also a deep-set fear in the population around HIV. Even after 25 years of education in our society, people have unrealistic ideas in our society about how HIV is transmitted.”
Moneith, who is HIV positive, said he feels lucky that he is able to work in an environment where he feels comfortable and can be open about his status. “I have a strong support group from friends and family,” said Moneith. “We have a lot of members who don’t have that support and that makes [living with HIV/AIDS] even harder.”
Among university students, Kwan said that many of the stigmas of today are different than they used to be, but nonetheless still exist. “In the early ‘80s, we thought of HIV as a white, gay man’s disease. Now, we think it is an African disease. But it’s not. It’s a human disease.”
In parts of Africa, HIV might be more prominent than here in Canada, but that certainly does not make accurate information and education any more accessible. “Even the president of South Africa [Thabo Mbeki] denied the existence of the disease for a long time,” said Amegashie. “We don’t talk enough about this disease and so it is spreading.”
Amegashie is breaking stigmas of his own by talking frankly and openly about safe sex and safe needle use. “I talk about how the use of condoms help to drop the AIDS problem […] but as a Catholic priest, I have to be very careful about what I say.”
The emphasis that is being placed on World AIDS Day is not just on the medical advancements and politics, but also on understanding and communicating with the people who live with HIV.
“The more that we are able to help people living with HIV tell their stories, the more we make HIV real to people in Montreal”, said Moneith. “So that’s something that we do, help people tell their stories. To make it real, to make them people instead of statistics.”