VANCOUVER (CUP) — Although research shows that public awareness of the risks of AIDS is in decline, the disease continues to infect and kill thousands of people everyday, speakers told a crowd gathered to mark World AIDS Day in Vancouver.
About 100 participants lit candles in memory of those lost to the disease outside the Dr. Peter Centre, which cares for people living with human immunodeficiency virus and acquired immune deficiency syndrome.
A dome consisting of 8,219 lights”?representing the estimated number people who die of AIDS everyday worldwide”?was extinguished during the Dec. 1 ceremony.
“AIDS has not gone away,” said Maxine Davis, executive director of the Dr. Peter AIDS Foundation. “More and more and more are becoming very seriously ill. Yet more and more of the public seems to think AIDS is no longer a cause to even support.”
According to a report released by the federal government on World AIDS Day, 56,000 people were living with HIV in Canada at the end of last year. That’s up 12 per cent from three years earlier.
Studies show that ignorance and misinformation surrounding AIDS — in addition to stigma and discrimination associated with the disease — are widespread, especially among the country’s youth.
Davis said AIDS drugs are becoming more toxic to many whose lives they are intended to extend. More and more people are simply no longer taking them, she said.
“It is not something that is easier to live with because of treatments,” said AIDS advocate Tom McAulay, a board member of the Dr. Peter Foundation. “It is not something that anybody should ever want.”
One speaker said he doesn’t even know how he contracted HIV; he could have received it from a blood transfusion, fighting, intravenous drug use, or sex. He urged people to use condoms during sex and clean equipment when taking drugs.
Reverend Terry Shea from the White Rock Centre for Positive Living invited the crowd to utter the names of loved ones lost to the disease. The dozens of names spoken into the night air combined to create a solemn, yet powerful moment.
After the ceremony, participants dispersed into downtown Vancouver, still holding their burning candles.
Over 42 million people are living with HIV worldwide. The United Nations estimates that HIV infected 5 million and AIDS killed 3.1 million last year. It predicts that more than 50 million will be living with the disease by 2005. No cure has been found.