It was a sea of solidarity and colour as hundreds descended upon Eau Claire Market Sunday morning for the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life.
The 15th annual fundraising event which had its supporters strolling along Memorial Drive through the Prince’s Island Park starting point, hoped to meet its goal of raising $115,000 in support of AIDS/HIV and people at risk of contracting HIV.
Susan Cress, executive director, AIDS Calgary Awareness Association, says the proceeds will go a long way to helping Calgarians who are living with HIV.
Of the approximate 500 walkers, she says not only are they successful fundraisers but they’re becoming “our own army of HIV educators.”
“When you mobilize 500 people in a community-talking about HIV, it raises the awareness and the conversation,” Cress explains, noting it’s a conversation that still needs much talking about despite the fact people with HIV are living healthier lives than in previous years.
However, Cress points out that greater social acceptance have also resulted in complacency around issues of risk and prevention.
“People are no longer afraid of getting HIV so they may not protect themselves as well as they used to,” she says.
Further, she explains that Calgary has one of the largest sexually transmitted infection rates in the province with more people transmitting STI’s such as syphilis, gonorrhea and Chlamydia.
She adds such lackadaisical attitudes are indicative of a still-great need to get the information about HIV risk out to the public.
Another challenge for the organization is the fact that while lessening some, stigma still exists in Calgary.
Says Cress: “[People are] still afraid of the people who have [HIV].”
The latter group, she explains, are the recipients of stigma-inducing feelings of isolation and lack of acceptance once they disclose their HIV status. They also may experience barriers involving employment, housing, social lives and dating as well as access to medical care.
On a positive note, Cress was excited about the walk and says that at pre-event time AIDS Calgary had already raised $75,000.
AIDS Calgary Gets its Prevention Message Out to the Public