TODAY IS World AIDS Day. For many, maybe most, the day will pass as usual without even realizing it has been set aside to recognize HIV/AIDS was and is a challenging disease.
Great strides have been made over the years — it’s no longer necessarily a death sentence, and it doesn’t carry with it the stigma it once did. Let’s not understate it, though — the stigma is still there, just not as pervasive as it once was.
Those of us who are a little older will remember Ryan White, who became known as “the boy with AIDS.” He contracted AIDS through a tainted hemophilia treatment in the 1980s and was expelled from school because of it.
This brave teenager refused to accept such discrimination, and became an international advocate for people living with AIDS. It resulted in legislation in the U.S. providing funding for AIDS patients but, just as importantly, by the time he died he was able to dispel many of the myths about AIDS and how it is contracted. Because of him, people became less afraid of it.
Many of us today know or have known people with AIDS. Many years ago, it claimed the life of my friend Dave Kendall, who was a fellow trustee on the Kamloops School Board.
I later wrote of Dave: “He enjoyed talking about ideas on how to change things; he never feared taking a political risk…. I treasure the last letter he sent us from back east; his courage in the face of a terminal illness was inspiring.”
In that letter, he expressed hope for an eventual treatment but he knew it wouldn’t come in time for him. Today, his death could very possibly have been prevented.
We need to keep fighting — an estimated 75,000 Canadians were living with AIDS at the end of 2014. Part of the success against HIV/AIDS has been in prevention, and that’s the theme this year: “Hands up for #HIV prevention.”
As the World AIDS Day website states: “World AIDS Day is important because it reminds the public and Government that HIV has not gone away – there is still a vital need to raise money, increase awareness, fight prejudice and improve education.”