BY: KRISTINA RAMCHARRAN
The annual African, Caribbean and Black HIV/AIDS Awareness day on February 7th brought together the three cultural communities for the awareness of a serious cause. The occasion, which occurs yearly, is used to educate and inform individuals affected by the disease in Oshawa and the surrounding greater Toronto area communities.
The ACB (African, Caribbean, Black) HIV/AIDS Awareness day also aims at ending the stigma around the infection and disease, giving people the opportunity speak up about their experiences and struggles of being affected by the disease.
This day is especially important in Durham region, where HIV/AIDS amongst black individuals is existent. It is dedicated to clarifying to the people of Durham Region and surrounding areas that HIV/AIDS is an incurable virus, and that it does not have any prejudice in who it affects, despite the many stigmas surrounding it.
The importance of this day lies in its purpose to educate people on HIV/AIDS resources that are available to anyone. This includes, but is not limited to, where they can get tested, support programs available and other help they can receive.
According to a census conducted in 2015 by the OHESI, Africans, blacks and Caribbean individuals made up 25 per cent of the individuals diagnosed with HIV in Ontario.
Black, African and Caribbean outreach coordinator Dane Record says this is a concerning statistic, and justifies the need for more community awareness. “About 1 in 4 people diagnosed with HIV in Ontario are ACB. This is especially concerning when we consider Durham Region has one of the larger Black populations outside of Toronto,” says Record.
Ajax is home to the largest Caribbean population outside of Toronto, and the resources offered around the community and in Durham region are often overlooked, with many flocking to Toronto seeking resources. Dane Record notes that there are three testing facilities in surrounding areas: Pickering, Oshawa and Port Perry.
To build more awareness the ACB HIV/AIDS Awareness team is currently appointing community leaders to pave the way for open discussions and factual education. As most of the content and information on HIV/AIDS is very Toronto centred, the awareness leaders then spread that information throughout Durham region.
Some interesting facts many can learn from the discussions and awareness involvement include anonymous testing. “It’s important because folks don’t all know that testing is anonymous,” adds Dane.
The efforts of spreading awareness are also spread through various religious institutions, for those more comfortable with seeking resources in a familiar environment. Dane notes this is especially important since people prefer to trust information from a trusted and known organization.
After being at numerous community events with an awareness booth, Dane identifies that people would rather go to the Public health booth for inquiries instead of the community health clinic. “We create strategies, and form strategies, to be better the next time,” says Dane on building trust within the community.
Other focuses of the ACB HIV/AIDS Awareness team include encouraging discussion amongst heterosexual black men so that they can work as leaders of discussion in the community. This project is primarily controlled by WeSpeak, an organization dedicated to encouraging ACB men to get tested as they are less likely to do so compared to ACB women.
Apart from WeSpeak, the ACB HIV/AIDS Awareness day is also done to encourage women to get tested, in collaboration with Women’s Health in Women’s Hands, a clinic dedicated to HIV/AIDS education and support programs targeted at women.
For more information on testing clinics and resources across the Greater Toronto Area, visit www.blackhivday.ca.