Nanaimo AIDS walk searches for new energy

NANAIMO" Disease affects 1,400 people on Island, scientists closer to halting epidemic.

Acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS) and human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) affect an estimated 1,400 people on Vancouver Island, yet somehow the disease has largely fallen off the community’s radar.

Stephanie Mills, spokeswoman for AIDS Vancouver Island, said the organization is working hard to change the perception that the disease is no longer a threat.

“It’s still a significant health issue here,” she said.

When AVI hosted its annual Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life last year, only six people showed up to participate.

It will try again Saturday (Sept. 22) at 11 a.m. at Maffeo Sutton Park to raise money and awareness for the disease.

“Twenty years ago, people were scared they were going to contract AIDS because we didn’t know as much about it. People thought you could get AIDS from touching somebody who had it,” said Mills. “Now we’ve educated people away from that, so maybe it’s not as scary anymore. But it continues to increase in certain demographics and there is still a fight against it.”

The disease still has no known cure, but past fundraising efforts, awareness campaigns and science have brought scientists to the point where halting the epidemic has become a possibility.

At an annual international AIDS conference in Washington, D.C., a few weeks ago, it was revealed there is new hope for developing an effective and safe AIDS vaccine that could speed up the end of the epidemic.

Since the scare in the 1980s, new HIV treatment options have been developed, though some remain out of reach for AIDS patients.

As a result, the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life continues to be a major event in other cities, raising money to further efforts against the disease.

Mills hopes the local community can rally once again to help defeat the disease for good.

“We’ve lost momentum. It was a big event here in the ’90s and has slowly petered out over the years. But this is a nationwide event that raises a lot of money nationally and we just need some new energy in Nanaimo,” she said.

Last year, AVI in Nanaimo educated more than 4,000 people about AIDS/HIV, hepatitis C, and harm reduction while providing 1,200 counseling sessions to people affected by those diseases.

Nanaimo Mayor John Ruttan, local members of parliament, and provincial MLAs will be speaking at the event. Community groups will have information tables and there will be entertainment and a kids fun area. The 1.5-kilometre walk winds along the waterfront and through downtown.

For more details on the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life or to register to participate, please visit www.avi.org.

AIDS Vancouver Island provides support for people living with AIDS or hepatitis C while providing community outreach services to continue to educate people about the facts of the disease.