Reducing HIV stigma to zero

By: Emma Tranter

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day.


Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day.

Dec. 1 is World AIDS Day.

“I don’t know of anybody who is not impacted by HIV. We are all impacted. We are all at risk of having it.”

These were some of the opening words from Somerset Community Health Centre’s Hector Addison at a prayer and remembrance service at River Jordan Community Church Saturday night. The event, titled “Getting to Zero,” was held as part of Ottawa’s AIDS Awareness Week.

The theme of “Getting to Zero” refers to having zero AIDS related deaths and zero fear and discrimination surrounding people living with HIV by 2015, a goal of the UNAIDS organization, which promotes HIV/AIDS awareness and prevention.

The main focus of the service was to educate the public about people living with HIV and the negativity associated with individuals carrying the virus.

In Canada, the law states that individuals with HIV must disclose their status to sexual partners.

Ontario is the leading province in HIV non-disclosure charges, according to AIDS Action Now.

Addison and other speakers at the service said they believe the underlying reason for such charges is stigma and a misunderstanding of HIV/AIDS. Because of the misinformation about HIV, there is a need for education about how the virus is transmitted, they said.

“HIV is actually a virus that is in someone’s body. When you have the virus it doesn’t mean that you’re sick, it just means that you have the virus in your body. HIV is not a death sentence,” said Jane Karago-Odongo, another worker at Somerset West Community Health Centre.

The service ran for two hours and included presentations about HIV/AIDS awareness in Ottawa, video and movie clips about prevention, two testimonials from people currently living with HIV, and a candle lighting ceremony for those who lost their lives to the virus.

“Most people are concerned about their community finding out that they are getting tested,” said Sarah North, an outreach worker at the health centre who performs HIV testing.

North spoke about the different types of testing the health care centre offers, including anonymous testing. She said that people feel more comfortable being tested for HIV anonymously because of the stigma surrounding people with the virus.

She also noted that getting tested for HIV and knowing your status is the first step to prevention.

“Knowing your status, whether it be negative or positive means that you can take the precautions you need to take in your life to live a healthy life. It keeps you healthy and it keeps people in your life healthy,” North said.

Along with anonymous testing, the Somerset centre offers a form of rapid testing, in which the client receives results within minutes of the test being performed. All HIV testing at the health care centre is free to the public.

The service demonstrated a need for further HIV education, as people living with the disease continue to feel discriminated against and feared. Somerset Community Health Care Centre, River Jordan Ministries, and others want the stigma to be abolished to zero.

AIDS Awareness Week in Ottawa runs until Dec. 2.

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