AIDS stigmas remain

The Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR) is targeting youth to clear the air about some of the common misconceptions about this far-reaching and deadly disease.

Elissa Beckett, director of development at CANFAR, said that almost half of people infected with HIV are women. This may come as a shock to those still living in caves, who subscribe to the myth that it is primarily a gay man’s disease.

That’s just one of the facts reinforcing this year’s World Aids Awareness theme: Live and let live: stigma and discrimination. Under these two themes, this year again CANFAR is trying to raise money for AIDS research and wants to educate people, especially the youth, about the facts and myths of AIDS and about how to prevent it from spreading further.

The idea, according to Beckett, is to stop the stigma by showing that a) AIDS is not a gay disease b) some women in non-industrialized countries are not given the choice nor the education to protect themselves and their unborn child from contracting HIV because condoms are not permitted and c) people who have AIDS are often afraid of telling their families and friends because they fear their reaction.

According to Beckett, the majority of discrimination takes place at the international level. When poorer countries are not aided by wealthier, more educated ones, they are discriminated against because they are unable to get out of this vicious circle of ignorance and lack of funds.

Beckett said that even with all the AIDS education efforts in North America, many people don’t see AIDS as a serious problem anymore because they figure they can take medication and everything will be fine.

“They don’t realize [that the treatment entails taking] 20 to 30 pills and not feeling so well.” She says there are “staggering statistics out in the media” and still people are not conscious that it remains a serious disease.

According to Health Canada Web site, “From 1982 [the year the first AIDS case was reported in Canada] and 1900, the median age for testing positive [for HIV] dropped from 32 to 23.”

On World AIDS day alone on Dec. 1, 6,500 people worldwide succumbed to the disease.

Furthermore, as reported by the Joint United Nations Programme on AIDS, “more than half of all new HIV/AIDS infections occur among 15 to 24 years old, and estimates show by 2010 there will be more than 25 million children orphaned by AIDS.”

So what are some of the solutions? Beckett said CANFAR has launched a national youth awareness program called “Have a Heart.” The program encourages students across Canada to sign up their high school, college or university to give out Heart O’ Grams on Valentines Day. For a small donation, students can send their friends a bag filled with a chocolate bar, a red ribbon or tattoo, a scratch and win card and an informational HIV/AIDS pamphlet with space to scribble a Valentine’s message.

All proceeds from the sale of Heart O’ Grams go toward funding AIDS research.

To learn more about the CANFAR campaign, log on to their Web site at www.canfar.com

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