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HIV/AIDS awareness week kicks off with flag raising ceremony at city hall

'Stigma is probably still the biggest hurdle. It’s surprising how many people still don’t quite understand how HIV is transmitted,' says director of education for local HIV/AIDS service organization
flag raising ceremony
In attendance were Mayor Ugulini, Councillor Neale, Regional Councillor Whalen, CAO Manoj Dilwaria, Councillor Sentance and Mutsa Mcharamba from Positive Living Niagara. Photo Credit: City of Thorold

On Tuesday, to mark the start of HIV/AIDS awareness week, Niagara Positive Living, a local community-based HIV/AIDS service organization, held a flag raising ceremony at city hall.

Says Jackie Barrett-Greene, the organization’s director of education and support services, “Stigma is probably still the biggest hurdle. It’s surprising how many people still don’t quite understand how HIV is transmitted. So this is our opportunity to raise awareness that this is an epidemic that is still very much around.”

AIDS awareness week is acknowledged in the week leading up to World AIDS Day on December 1st, which will be commemorated with a vigil at the St. Catharines museum & Welland Canals Centre.

“That will be a vigil honouring those who have lost the battle with HIV and looking forward to the future. It also kicks off indigenous AIDS awareness week.”

Niagara Positive Living was founded all the way back in 1987 as the AIDS committee of Niagara.

Says Barrett-Greene, “We started out as an organization to help people living with HIV. It was right in the early days of the AIDS crisis.”

These days, the organization serves about 120 people living with HIV, providing case management, in-home support, and counselling, as well as education in the community and street work programs providing safe injection supplies and sites.

Barrett-Greene explains that one of the many hurdles for people with HIV in Niagara is the inaccessibility to proper care since the nearest HIV specialist works out of Hamilton.

“We spend a lot of time getting people to Hamilton for their medical appointments. It’s a lot for people to get up there, especially if they don’t have transportation.”

When it comes to getting an HIV specialist in Niagara, Barret-Greene says, “We are always working toward it. We’re hopeful that that will happen eventually.”

Barrett-Greene thinks it’s been a long road but she is hopeful about the future.

“HIV treatment years ago was horrific. The side effects were terrible. (Now) the medications are really strong but have far fewer side effects. People are able to live a normal life. The most wonderful thing I think is HIV-positive moms and dads have been able to have HIV-negative children now. There’s been tremendous amount of progress. What we would hope to see in the future of course is to see HIV completely eradicated but treatments are improving.”

About the Author: Bernard Lansbergen

Bernard was born and raised in Belgium but moved to Canada in 2012 and has lived in Niagara since 2020. Bernard loves telling people’s stories and wants to get to know those that make Thorold into the great place it is
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