Afro-Canadian Positive Network of B.C.
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Even with access to care, I saw the Afro-Canadian positive community around me failing to receive the care they need. Refugees face many challenges -- being a newcomer, being alone, dealing with trauma. In addition, the shame of having HIV was profound; merely walking into an HIV clinic caused widespread gossip and shaming within the community.
The vulnerability of Black Canadians to HIV is highly complex and requires a better focus on prevention, education, harm reduction and testing. Our biggest challenge is the high and especially persistent levels of HIV stigma and homophobia in our communities. These attitudes severely limit our success in engaging Canada's Black communities in a dialogue about HIV, and get in the way of our HIV prevention, testing and treatment efforts. This is what our awareness day is all about. We want to both celebrate our successes and make an objective assessment of where our community is at in this fight to engage people in HIV prevention.
It is no coincidence that in countries and regions with high HIV/AIDS prevalence, women tend to have a lower position in society. But exactly what are the linkages between how women and girls are valued and their risk for HIV/AIDS? A significant factor is the ability to make choices.
Women's lack of power relative to men gives them less bargaining power in negotiating the use of condoms to protect themselves. Poverty and lack of alternative options lead women to use survival strategies, including prostitution and exchange of sex for resources. To improve women's position in society and give them more control over their life choices, the perceived value of women and girls must change.
World AIDS Day is Saturday. How will you remember and commemorate? Last year alone, 1.7 million people worldwide died as a result of AIDS-related causes. Their deaths must not be in vain. In their memory let us take a more proactive stance in observing this special day this year.
End HIV stigma now is a good message. But how? Complacency about AIDS is a major problem and education is still our only vaccine. But sometimes, somewhat surprisingly, even the educated need educating.