HIV/AIDS walk turns into a party

Judy Mitchell of Positive Living North is getting ready for the HIV/AIDS block party coming up September 15. Bill Phillips photo
Judy Mitchell of Positive Living North is getting ready for the HIV/AIDS block party coming up September 15. Bill Phillips photo

BY BILL PHILLIPS

bill@pgdailynews.ca

It’s a walk that has turned into a party.

The AIDS/HIV walk, held in September each year, is going to be a block party this year.

“Normally it’s an AIDS walk, we start off in the Civic Centre, we do the walk and we go home,” said Judy Mitchell of Positive Living North. “This year we’ve experienced some funding cuts, so what we came up with is the block party. All we have to do is block off the street.”

The Positive Living North AIDS Walk/Block Party will be on September 15 from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m. on Third Avenue in front of the Fire Pit. It will be held in conjunction with the Wilson Square Market, FarmFest 2018, the Downtown Farmers’ Market, Guerilla Bike Rodeo.

There will be bannock cooked on site. There will also be an HIV bingo in the Fire Pit and there will also be some kids activities.

“We’re blocking off Third Avenue,” said Mitchell. “It’s going to be a lot of fun with music from the Art of Magic. There will be vendors and information booths. Native court workers will be in attendance. The Fire Pit will have some of its crafts for sale. It’s going to be a lot of fun and something for everyone.”

The event will raise awareness about HIV/AIDS, but it’s also a fundraiser.

“We definitely need volunteers, but more than that we need your change,” said Mitchell. “The main cause is to fundraise to support people living with HIV.”

HIV/AIDS is no longer considered an epidemic and is now considered a chronic manageable disease, which means some sources of funding are no longer available. What hasn’t changed, however, is the need to help those with HIV/AIDS.

“There’s money for education but there’s not money to support people who have been living 30 or 40 years with this disease,” she said.

She said they are now seeing seniors with the disease. As HIV is a disease that attacks a person’s immune system, issues such as arthritis, COPD, bone density and others, which crop up older people, hit people with HIV that much harder.

“It makes a difference that you’re coming down to support and that you take the time to talk to someone living with HIV,” she said. “Hug someone with HIV. You can’t get HIV from casual contact.”

She says stigma surrounding people with HIV still exists.

“People don’t to get tested because it gets written down somewhere, if you’re positive,” she said. “They don’t want that out there. People who have been tested don’t want to tell their family, their friends because they start getting that ‘oh’ … the push-away. It’s difficult.”

Education programs are helping, she says, but removing the stigma is slow.

“The stereotype (of those who contract HIV) is gay or men who have sex with men, or intravenous drug use,” she says. “But what we’re seeing is an increase in seniors, 55-plus.”

Part of the reason for that increase, she says, older people aren’t worried about getting pregnant so they don’t use condoms.

“Please, still wear the condoms,” she said.

Mitchell added they are seeing more cases among women and among heterosexual.

She added that 20 per cent of people living with HIV, don’t know they are infected.

“Positive Living North does a lot of harm reduction, a lot of education,” she said. “Use clean rigs, use clean needles, use condoms, use lubricants.”

Although Northern Health’s overall trend in newly identified HIV diagnoses has been declining since it peaked in 2004, there are still about 10 newly identified cases every year in the region.

Between 2010 and 2014, there were 76 new cases of HIV infections in the Northern Health region. Since 2014, there have been 33 new HIV infections identified to date.