KAMLOOPS - A walk to help bring awareness to HIV and AIDS in Kamloops will be taking place tomorrow as the disease continues to spread and stigma around it continues to be an issue.
Walk With Us is happening for the sixth year at the ASK Wellness centre on the North Shore tomorrow, Oct. 7, from 11 a.m. to 2 p.m. The event raises awareness about the disease and honours those the community has lost, outreach nurse Kira Haug says.
“This is our little event. Tomorrow we’ll probably feed 125 people,” she says. “We do a little walk because for years we’ve had folks with compromised immune systems and disabilities.”
The event includes a free barbecue as well. Haug says the event brings out a variety of people, from friends and family of people who have passed away to people currently diagnosed as HIV positive.
“It’s open to anybody,” she says. “Whether you’ve been infected, afflicted or inflicted.”
While the event is a grassroots way for people affected by the disease to connect, it also serves as a way for the agency to fundraise for crisis grants. Crisis grants go to people with HIV to deal with basic needs like groceries, hydro bills or child care for someone who needs to attend an important appointment in Vancouver.
“Cookie Reimer and I put on this event,” Haug says. “She single handedly raises $4,000 to $4,500 for our crisis grants.”
Participants in a previous Walk With Us event at the North Shore ASK Wellness Centre.
Image Credit: Contributed by Kira Haug
There’s a misconception that the disease is only in the certain communities or affects certain social groups more, Haug says. Statistics show that 50 per cent of people newly diagnosed are heterosexual youth between the ages of 15 and 25.
“We’re pigeon holing street people with HIV and there’s all kinds of people in the province and in the nation that are positive that don’t identify as drug using, having mental health issues or poor,” she says.
This means testing is extremely important for people who may partake in high risk behaviours.
“One out four people that are positive don’t know they are,” she says. “So testing is so important.”
Additionally, discussions at home are important, so that youth understand the risks. Haug says prevention is still the most important part of awareness.
“I hope that it encourages conversations at dinner tables,” she says. “It’s especially important we’re talking to youth about high risk activities. That would be drug use, tattooing and piercing and sexual activity.
“We need to talk to our kids. The internet is giving people so much information, but some of these topics are still clouded with so much stigma and discrimination and shame.”
There is no clear statistic for how many people in Kamloops may be living with a positive diagnosis. While Haug has a better idea due to her work with the homeless population, she doesn’t know about people who don’t require the community agency’s support.
“I think the last time I tried to investigate it could be anywhere between 500 and 1,200 people,” she says. “I only have my eyes on or a concept of street level. There’s going to be professionals, there’s going to be all kinds of people out there with a positive outcome that I don’t know because they don’t need me.”
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