World AIDS Day focus on legal issues

Nov 30, 2012 | News

By Andrew Schopp

Saturday marks the 25th World AIDS Day, an annual international effort to raise awareness of the disease, which according to Public Health Agency of Canada, has claimed the lives of over 13,000 Canadians from 1980-2009.

World AIDS Day was established in 1988 by the UN General Assembly.

“It was decided that this day should be a time for the peoples of the UN to appreciate, understand and acknowledge the danger that AIDS poses to humanity and the extent to which it had spread all over the world,” according to the United Nations Association in Canada website.

“We always look at World AIDS Day as an incredible opportunity to be able to reach out to people that we wouldn’t otherwise be able to,” said Vijaya Chikermane, executive director of Toronto-based Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention.

World AIDS Day was established in 1988 when AIDS was declared a global pandemic. COURTESY: WIKICOMMONS

“International days in general carry a lot of clout and for many in our community there is a different type of legitimacy that a stamp of a ‘international day’ for something gives and we try and leverage that to try and reach out to those communities,” Chikermane told Humber News.

With great advances in technology curbing infection rates and helping HIV sufferers live through the disease, Chikermane said this year has been a hallmark year for the AIDS battle.

2012 however, has also brought with it a new set of challenges.

“We are a very trepidatious about what is happening in Canada around the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure, this week, with the awareness week and the day itself, it is a good opportunity to start talking to people about that,” she said. “We strongly believe that the decision and direction that the courts have taken around this issue is one that puts people at more risk and adds to the fear and vulnerability of the community.”

This year the Supreme Court of Canada ruled that HIV-positive individuals must disclose their status to sexual partners, or they could be convicted of aggravated sexual assault.

Monique Doolittle-Romas, chief executive officer of Ottawa-based Canadian AIDS Society, said the court’s ruling discourages people from getting tested for HIV.

Chikermane also criticized the Nov 28. rejection of private members Bill C-398, which would have secured increased access to affordable AIDS treatment in developing countries.

“World AIDS day is an important opportunity for us to engage with the Canadian public to discuss HIV and AIDS. It is the one time a year we can talk to people about discrimination, the realities of living with HIV and AIDS and support those who have HIV or are at risk,” said Doolittle-Romas.

“Today there are more than 71,300 people living with HIV in Canada, in the last year 3000 contracted HIV and we still have much work to be done,” she said.

“I would encourage (students) to support their local AIDS service organizations, to go out and volunteer, to donate, to get involved in memorials, vigils, and fundraising activities. Become aware of how HIV can be transmitted and to talk with their friends, talk about HIV on a regular basis, not just on World AIDS day. We need to reach out to youth,” she said.

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