Virtual education event marks African, Caribbean, Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day


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February 7 is national African, Caribbean, Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day, and the Caribbean Association of Grande Prairie (CAGP) has partnered with Northreach Society to hold a virtual education event to mark the day.

The virtual event will provide basic HIV/AIDS knowledge and education, draw attention to the transmission of the virus, provide information on treatment and the available supports that can be found in Grande Prairie, and provide facts to dispell stigmas and remove fears surrounding the virus.

Shannae Luke, the Chair of the CAGP, says one of the big stigmas they hope to address has to do with the assumption of black people being associated with so-called ‘AIDS countries.’

“There’s lots of African countries where there has been a lot of cases of people having HIV/AIDS, and there might be some stigma associated with black people because of that,” says Luke.

“So it would be good for the community in general to have an understanding of the impact of having that stigma attached on each individual. It’s hard enough knowing that you might have family and friends that are impacted by HIV/AIDS, but then it’s compounded by people stereotyping you as coming from one of those places.”

Lindsay Loset, the Community Based Health and STBBI Program Manager for Northreach, says it’s important to have this day to help end stigma and discrimination based on things like gender and race, which create barriers to AIDS prevention in those in the African, Caribbean and Black Canadian communities.

She says those stigmas negatively impact testing rates and subsequently the ability for people to seek treatment or support, which has led to a disproportionate rate of transmission of the virus.

“In Canada, a statistic is one in 35 people are African, Caribbean or black, but one in seven people who are living with HIV are also African, Caribbean or black,” says Loset.

Loset says she hopes this event will help inspire people to overcome their fears and be tested, because, through treatment, people living with HIV/AIDS can reach a level where the virus can no longer be transmitted.

“There’s a saying that is ‘U=U,’ so that’s ‘undetectable equals un-transmittable ,'” says Loset.

“So when people are living with HIV, they maintain their medication schedule, they adhere to their treatment plan, and after a certain amount of time the level of the virus goes down in their blood and when it’s at what is called an undetectable level. They still have a little tiny bit of the virus in their blood, but it goes down to this undetectable level and when people are at that level they won’t be able to pass it on to any other sexual partners.”

Loset says doctors in Grande Prairie can administer an HIV/AIDS test upon request, and for those who don’t have a family doctor, Northreach can provide a referral. There is also an HIV/AIDS specialist who operates in Grande Prairie that can provide people living with HIV/AIDS the necessary treatments.

Luke adds that she hopes this educational event will not only raise awareness of the virus, but also help change public perception.

“I’d say when you know better then you do better. So if you know, I think as the more people understand about HIV/AIDS and its transmission and have a level of understanding of the impact on people who are affected by it directly and indirectly, then there might be more empathy towards others.”

The African, Caribbean, Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day event starts at 2 p.m., and is being held on Zoom.