Saturday, August 19, 2006

AIDS: The Disease that No One Wants to See

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This was just one of the paintings featured at the International AIDS Conference this week in Toronto. There was a display to highlight the Iraqi, Brazilian and other war zone routine executions of people with AIDS. It seems that in some of these countries where Amnesty International is trying to spearhead investigations into these murders, they are trying to curb the incidences where gay, lesbian and straight people with AIDS are stalked, harassed, tortured and often killed by governmental or non-governmental agents.

"It's time to deliver!" is the theme of this year's conference. Fittingly, Bill Gates donated half a billion dollars to AIDS research. The theme is a reference to the fact that while Canada promised all these drugs to help the plight of developing countries whose populations are being ravaged by HIV/AIDS, not one pill has been sent. The other Bill (Clinton) was present along with UN envoy in Africa Stephen Lewis and Richard Gere stated that AIDS was "the real terrorist" in the world today.

Critics charged that while it is helpful to try to develop a microbicide to kill AIDS in the future (like Gates is proposing), we need essential services right now. One of the demands is to not shut down the free injection site in British Columbia which is scheduled to close down this year, leaving hundreds of thousands of drug addicts prone to infection. We also have a distorted view of people with HIV/AIDS which is where the stigma comes from. Many schoolchildren don't know the basics about disease-prevention and many still consider victims of the disease somehow deviant.

The fact is: every 14 seconds, someone between 15 and 24 is infected with HIV. (That is an estimated 6,000 a day).

While all these NGO's were networking to fight this global disease, meanwhile, the governmental organizations were busy burying their heads in the sand. Stephen Harper was as far as he could be from where the International AIDS Conference was. He was in the Yukon. After a week of brow-beating from the media for not giving a response on whether or not he will allocate any funds or resources to this epidemic, he said that the issue is now "too politicized" to respond to it. If issues become too politicized for politicians to respond to, you might ask: what DO politicians respond to? Harper's non-response was a response in and of itself. As a normal person with some intelligence stated: "This is not about politics. This is about people dying."

Instead of going to work at a new job which turned out to be sales instead of PR (like it was advertised as), I skipped out and went with Peter to this event, free to the public. We trundled from booth to booth picking up free buttons, reading pamplets, signing petitions and watching performances. It was a highlight to see people from all over the world with the same mission. I got to hear lesbians lead a session on sexual techniques, giving some tricks on digital stimulation and see a female condomn for the very first time! Hey Sue, that thing's a bit clunky ainnit? Well, Earl, it'll also protect against pubic lice too!

Some of the biggest challenges to poverty and development are linked to HIV/AIDS since the disease kills or incapacitates the most productive segments of the population. In this country, AIDS is a preventable and treatable disease. However, since poorer children may "miss that class" in school or make a misinformed decision, or also because there is still that stigma surrounding the disease which forces many to remain silent about it, there is quite a considerable risk. And just because HIV/AIDS doesn't take hold of one-third of the population like it does in some countries, it is a global responsibility to try to lessen its destruction. It is one of the MDG's.

As I left the conference, I asked Peter if he wanted to hang out a bit longer before I had to rush back for my real job. He started gagging uncontrollably which was probably a lot less pleasant for him than for I. He was having a "bad medication day". He has always talked about being guilty because the medicine that he takes every day is available only to a hair-thin slice of the world. Although he still faces many inconveniences, frustrations and obstructions like his inability to travel to the U.S. he feels very thankful to be in a country where he can get treatment for his disease. He is not an example of someone who has given up but rather the person who is always energetic and "too busy living life" to be sick. Last week he wrote this article that was featured in the Globe and Mail.

There is still much for us to do though. Making AIDS less of something to feel ashamed of and something more people should know about are just the very basics. When our government feels the issue is "too politicized" to respond to, what are this generation's children going to say when they get the disease? Will they be brave enough to tell their partners?

In closing, I will leave you with a picture and excerpt featured in "Our Way Through", a publication put out by the AIDS Committee of Ottawa featuring photographs by Gustavo Hannecke. Here is the story of a 44-year old man with HIV:

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I am a 44-year old gay man who has been HIV positive since 1989. I worked for the City of Ottawa for 11 years repairing pipelines. In 1996, my mother passed away in the hospital due to certain medical complications. I was deeply impacted by my mother's death. My health began to deteriorate soon after that. During the next two years, I was diagnosed with toxoplasmosis and CMV (cytomegalovirus). Consequently, my vision got worse and today I am considered legally blind.

16 years after being diagnosed with HIV, here I am, still alive and kicking. I live alone and I am very independent. When I look back at the last 16 years, one word comes to mind...RESILIENCE. I am living proof that HIV is not a death sentence. If you have a positive attitude towards life, you can live a normal and healthy life. That doesn't mean that life is perfect, but life does go on.

The message that I would like to convey is your HIV status doesn't define who you are, but how you deal with [it] does. I am an HIV positive man, but what defines me is my indomitable spirit.


Proud Volunteer of The Living Room.

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3 Comments:

Blogger Percival said...

I'd just add that disease in general, like most vital issues affecting the actual citizenry which the leadership of the world's nations, one might think, is supposed to be intent on addressing, is terribly neglected in terms of the resources brought to bear.

You have crumbs thrown to serious social and medical needs and most resouces thrown into armaments and launching senseless wars.

12:09 PM  
Blogger Carrie said...

WOW.

12:12 PM  
Blogger toobusyliving said...

Very well said.....and written!

8:51 AM  

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