The following is an open letter from one of the SGIAS directors that was written for World AIDS Day, 2013. It is worth a read:
Remembering the Red AIDS Ribbon: an open letter to my rural community
Soon it will be World AIDS Day again. December 1st, 2013 marks thirty-two years of this global pandemic. This letter is an invitation to you, our community of ten thousand people living here on Salt Spring Island, to learn more about this ongoing global pandemic. This letter is a thank you on behalf of our little HIV organization for the many years of support you have given us.
Over these past decades many extraordinary advances in research and treatment have occurred. However, many losses continue to be suffered and monumental battles are yet to be won. With the exception of a cure and a vaccine we do have the tools that could turn this madness around. And yet social HIV/AIDS stigma remains the greatest obstacle for many to be tested and access and retain treatment. For those of us fortunate enough to have access to life saving medications we watch in dismay and anger as hundreds of thousands of people worldwide do not.
Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society [SGIAS]
In 2001, on Salt Spring Island, eleven courageous HIV positive people and a handful of visionary allies created Canada’s smallest peer-run AIDS Service Organization. Our operating budget is less than $1000/year. With little more than the funding received from your pocket change during our annual World AIDS Day red ribbon campaign and the on-going 1% from grocery receipts generously provided through Country Grocer (look for our box by the exit door as you leave) our output is truly inspiring.
SGIAS members, when energy allows, make art, participate in and organize community events, develop our web-site and pursue other means of community outreach, act as board members for other ASO’s, write about HIV, engage in political processes, and lead workshops and educational initiatives locally and at national and international conferences. Many act as peer navigators for local community members including those with other health challenges. Most importantly our peer support group, from which SGIAS emerged, gathers several times a year in one another’s homes for mutual support and the latest treatment, health and wellness information. Please visit our new website www.sgias.org for more information and see what a handful of HIV Poz people can do. We recognize this disease has changed our lives and brought us together in ways we may never have imagined possible.
According to 2011 national HIV estimates (www.catie.ca), the number of people living with HIV in Canada is increasing. An estimated 71,300 Canadians were living with HIV at the end of 2011, an increase of 7,300 people since 2008. A full quarter of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware that they have HIV (2011). Almost 25,000 Canadians with HIV have died since the beginning of the epidemic.
Internationally, 35.3 million people were living with HIV at the end of 2012. Since the beginning of the AIDS epidemic, more than 75 million people have contracted HIV and nearly 36 million have died of HIV-related causes (http://www.amfar.org).
Wear a ribbon for your neighbour, wear one for the World
HIV/AIDS, like other illnesses, is a social justice issue that requires political will and cultural change. One way we can repair some of this damage is to act on behalf of others. So when you pick up your red AIDS ribbon this year at a nearby store, please remember to wear it proudly over your heart. The gift of your dollars goes to member’s alternative health care and HIV related medical costs as well as regional educational and outreach initiatives. Even more importantly however, your ribbon shows you willingly act as an ally of people living with HIV/AIDS worldwide.
We are also determined to stand with many of you as allies in your health challenges and your journeys toward resiliency. A community truly dedicated to one another is a healthier community. We are honoured to be part of this loving community.
With gratitude and pride,
PhD student, Social Dimensions of Health program,
University of Victoria, BC
Proud board member, Southern Gulf Islands AIDS Society