09/27/2014 02:23 EDT | Updated 11/27/2014 05:59 EST

Montreal walkathon fights HIV stigma

Thousands walked through the streets of downtown Montreal today to raise money — and awareness — for the fight against HIV/AIDS.

The Farha Foundation held its 22nd ÇA MARCHE walkathon in support of the more than 20,000 people living with the virus in Quebec.

It attracted about 3,000 people, each with a unique reason for coming out.

Some have been marching for HIV/AIDS awareness since a Montreal fashion industry executive — Ron Farha — started the foundation before he died of the disease in 1993.

Melodie Hicks is a nursing professor at Vanier college who brought her students to the walk ahead of an exchange program to Malawi, a country where about 10 per cent of the population are HIV-positive.  

“There they will see AIDS and how AIDS is absolutely still devastating has devastated families and complete populations,” said Hicks.

“For many around the world [AIDS is] something that is not considered a chronic illness, it is a death sentence.”

Prevention and education

Organizers say raising money is important, but it is also crucial to help people recognize that unlike in Malawi, HIV/AIDS in Quebec is often a chronic illness that is not terminal.

The seven kilometre march wound its way through downtown before ending in Place Émilie-Gamelin for a celebration.

Since 1992, the Farha Foundation has distributed close to $9.3 million to 76 organizations throughout Quebec that provide services to HIV/AIDS victims, as well as HIV/AIDS prevention and education programs.