Journey of AIDS – India to Canada

Journey of AIDS – India to Canada

AIDS Walk Toronto

On World AIDS Day, I want to share with you, the role of this disease in my life. I was a little girl when my mom started working for an NGO in India called CHELSEA. From what I understood she went to villages to educate women about safe sex, used to hand out free condoms and taught them how to sow in order to be financially dependent. I didn’t understand anything about AIDS but I knew it was an awful disease. A few years after we moved to Canada, my mom started doing the AIDS Walk in Toronto. It’s been 8 years and she has raised over 10,000 dollars for the cause with a smile on her face. She also wrote a recipe book to raise funds for the charity back home, because that’s where it all began. On our last trip back to India, my mom took my sister and me to CHELSEA’s office and we had the pleasure of meeting some HIV positive children that are enrolled in their programs. We got to laugh, dance, eat and share stories with them. It was truly a beautiful and meaningful experience. I continue to volunteer for the cause and want to thank my mom for exposing us to the injustices that surround this disease.

There are 34 million people that are living with this disease, 25 million people have passed (since 1981) and thousands of new infections are in the making as you read this. We immediately think of Africa when someone starts talking about AIDS and though the majority of the world’s infections do reside in Sub-Saharan Africa, I want to talk to you about the prevalence of HIV/AIDS amongst women in Ontario/Canada.

Let’s start with the stats. According to Shared Health Exchange, between 2000-2008, the number of HIV diagnoses among women has been at or around, 25% of all HIV diagnoses in Ontario. 39.2% of women estimated to be living with HIV in Ontario are still undiagnosed. In total there are approximately 65,000 living with this disease in Canada and more than a quarter of those people are unaware of their status. Could these numbers be accurate? In a country with free access to secondary school and healthcare, shouldn’t these numbers be lower?

What makes women more vulnerable to this disease? Stigma, social isolation, poverty, the lack of power in their relationship to negotiate safe sex, cultural/religious contexts and the fear of violence. We also have to consider that homosexual relationships are not yet embraced in our society, some men are married to women, will secretly have unprotected sex with men, contract HIV and then bring it home to their wives. Then you have to consider people that are unaware of their status and unknowingly pass the disease on, people that are aware but don’t tell their partners and then others who don’t believe the disease is prevalent enough in Canada to even worry about using condoms. It sounds so complicated, doesn’t it?

Dancing with HIV positive kids at CHELSEA.

Let me simplify. It doesn’t matter how you contract this disease and who from, nobody deserves to have it or live without access to ARV’s. We need to stop judging people on what we perceive to be risky sexual behaviour and focus our efforts on education. The mantra ought to continue to be “wrap it up”. This is not a disease that only effects people in far off lands. HIV/AIDS is a problem here too. On World AIDS Day I ask you to support some of the organizations that are working on the ground doing research and advocacy for an AIDS free world. Together, we can make this disease a history.

-Kavita Dogra

In Canada

Research:

CANFAR – http://www.canfar.com/en_CA/home

Shared Health Exchange – http://shexchange.net/wp/women-hiv/who-is-at-risk

Service providers:

AIDS Committee of Toronto – http://www.actoronto.org/

Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment – http://www.hivimmigration.ca/

Alliance for South Asian AIDS Prevention – http://asaap.ca/

Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention – http://www.black-cap.com/

World

UNAIDS – http://www.unaids.org/en/

ONE – http://www.one.org/international/

(RED) – http://www.joinred.com/worldaidsday/

CHELSEA – http://www.wagchelsea.com/

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