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Commemorating World AIDS Day

World Aids DayCombating the myths about HIV/AIDS is one key to preventing the spread of the disease within the African Canadian community, said three community panellists at an event to commemorate World AIDS Day on December 1, 2005.

The event, "Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise" was part of the World Affairs Colloquium series.

Dr. John Wasikye Kirya, a medical doctor from Uganda who now works for the City of Toronto in HIV prevention within the black community, said AIDS education can be ineffective because it is often one-way communication. Dr. Kirya's practice is to listen and dialogue to find out what people know. He then works with individuals to overturn the myths about HIV/AIDS.

Immigration is taking a strong toll on the rising incidents of HIV in areas such as Toronto, said Dr. Kirya. Many in the black community in Toronto are immigrants facing difficult challenges such as language and cultural barriers, he said.

"Personal health is at the bottom of the line – the last thing they want to do is search out HIV information when the windchill is -35C."

Raymond Mika, executive director of the African Canadian Social Development Council, said he has become seized with the importance of HIV/AIDS in the community.

His organization enables the African Canadian community to develop a range of programs and services to help with the challenges they face, which can include poverty, employment and racism as well as HIV/AIDS.

"The rate at which the problem has mushroomed is really frightening," Mr. Mika said. "The community really needs to pick this up – this is a matter that is catching on like wildfire."

He encouraged the audience to take action.

"In our own lives, look at things you might be able to do. Talk with your friends and help them overcome myths. Make sure you drum this in, it's important we protect ourselves as individuals and as a community."

Dr. Kirya added that there are many misconceptions about HIV/AIDS that immigrants carry over to Canada. "It takes a lot of patience, time and understanding to tackle that."

According to Dr Kirya, some of the myths originating in Africa around HIV/AIDS include: getting the virus from casual contact or insect bites; that the virus is a form of chemical warfare generated in the United States; that the birth control pill will protect against contracting HIV; and, when a woman menstruates, she sheds the virus.

Dr. Edith Atieno Wambayi, a research specialist at Durham College, said women are particularly vulnerable to contracting HIV.

Often women in Africa cannot negotiate for safe sex with their husbands because of the cultural boundaries around married relations, she said. A woman's physiology as the receptive partner also contributes to an increased risk of contracting HIV.

"Every 16 seconds a woman is infected with HIV. Every 29 seconds a woman dies of an AIDS-related illness," she said.

All three panellists agreed that the best way to prevent HIV/AIDS is to follow the ABCs – abstain, be faithful and use a condom.

"Stop AIDS, Keep the Promise" was organized by the Trent African and Caribbean Students Union in collaboration with the World Affairs Colloquium Organizing Committee, the Trent International Students Association, the Trent International Program, the Trent Women's Centre and the Peterborough AIDS Research Network.

Photo: Raymond Mika, Dr. John Wasikye Kirya and Dr. Edith Atieno Wambayi.

Posted December 5, 2005


































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