Soon it will be World AIDS Day again. December 1st, 2013 marks thirty-two years of this global pandemic. This letter is an invitation to you, our community of ten thousand people living here on Salt Spring Island, the largest gulf island on the west coast of Canada, to learn more about this ongoing global pandemic. This letter is a thank you on behalf of our little HIV organization for the many years of support you have given us.
Over these past decades many extraordinary advances in research and treatment have occurred. However, many losses continue to be suffered and monumental battles are yet to be won. In Canada we shoulder legal bias for non-HIV disclosure (despite solid scientific evidence). With the exception of a cure and a vaccine we do have the tools that could turn this madness around. And yet social HIV/AIDS stigma remains the greatest obstacle for many to test, access and retain treatment and care. For those of us fortunate enough to have access to life saving medications we watch in dismay and anger as hundreds of thousands of people worldwide do not.
According to 2011 national HIV estimates :
The number of people living with HIV in Canada is increasing. An estimated 71,300 Canadians were living with HIV at the end of 2011, an increase of 7,300 people since 2008. A full quarter of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware that they have HIV (2011).Almost 25,000 Canadians with HIV have died since the beginning of the epidemic.The HIV epidemic has always been a social justice issue. In Canada, the virus is concentrated in specific vulnerable and resilient populations.
- Aboriginal people represent 9% of all people living with HIV in Canada despite only being 2% of the overall population
- Females represents 23% of all people living with HIV in Canada
- Heterosexual sex represents 33% of all people living with HIV in Canada. (Of these, 15% of all people living with HIV were from a country where HIV is endemic (primarily countries in sub-Saharan Africa and the Caribbean)
- Injection Drug Users represent 20%
- Gay men represent 50%+ of all people living with HIV in Canada despite being less than 1-2% of the overall population (Canadian Community Health Survey, 2009). Queers of colour are even more vulnerable. If these numbers continue as they have over the last decade, half of all young gay men will be HIV positive by the time they are middle age.
Internationally, 35.3 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2012. Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, more than 75 million people have contracted HIV and nearly 36 million have died of HIV-related causes.
HIV/AIDS, like other illnesses, is a social justice issue that requires political will and cultural change. We erroneously burden the sick with behavioral responsibility, only one of twelve necessary conditions for wellness. Health disparities are determined by the Public Health Agency of Canada as inequity in terms of the key determinants of health including:
Any missing or distorted determinant may have negative impacts on one’s ‘social’ or inter-psychic immune system, which in turn can affect our biological systems. One way we know we can repair some of this damage is to act on behalf of others.
Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society
In 2001, on Salt Spring Island, eleven courageous HIV positive people and a handful of visionary allies created Canada’s smallest peer-run AIDS Service Organization. Our operating budget is less than $1000/year. With only the funding received from your pocket change during our annual World AIDS Day red ribbon campaign and the on-going 1% from your grocery receipts our output is truly inspiring.
One member, Peggy Frank, created Positively Africa, a service organization which currently supports over 20 projects in 6 different countries.
Peggy’s recently ventured to travel Canada with her AIDS art project, “This is not a cocktail party” with a giant martini glass made of plastic HIV medication bottles. HIV is also an enormous environmental burden. We are enormously proud of her wellspring of courage, compassion and creativity.
[http://www.theglobeandmail.com/life/life-video/video-negative-stigma-still-haunts-hivaids-patients/article9148369/] Video on Peggy Frank and her work.
Other SGIAS members, when energy allows, make art, organize community events, develop our web-site, act as board presidents for other ASO’s, write about HIV, engage in political processes, lead workshops and educational initiatives locally and at national conferences. Many act as peer navigators for local community members with other health challenges. Most importantly, even before establishing SGIAS in 2001, we continue to gather several times a year in one another’s homes for tea, mutual support and the latest treatment health and wellness information. [image tea pot]. Please visit our new website www.sgias.org for more information and see what a handful of HIV Poz people can do. We recognize this disease changed our lives and brought us together in ways we may never imagined possible.
Wear a ribbon for your neighbor, wear one for the World
So, please when you pick up your AIDS ribbon this year at a nearby store please remember to wear it proudly over your heart. The gift of your dollars goes to member’s alternative health care and HIV related medical costs as well as regional educational initiatives. Even more importantly however, your ribbon shows you willingly act as an ally of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
We are also determined to stand with many of you as allies in your health challenges and your journeys toward resiliency. A community truly dedicated to one another is a healthier community. We are honored to be part of this loving community.
With gratitude and pride,
PhD student, Social Dimensions of Health program,
University of Victoria, BC
Proud board member, Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society