5,000 to Walk for AIDS Organization Fundraiser
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5,000 to Walk for AIDS Organization Fundraiser

HIV/AIDS fundraiser more crucial than ever in the face of potential cuts from City Hall.

Participants stretch before the 2010 edition of the Walk.

Scotiabank AIDS Walk For Life
Church Street Public School (83 Alexander Street)
Sunday, September 25, 11 a.m.

On Sunday, an estimated 5,000 people will participate in the Scotiabank AIDS Walk For Life to raise both awareness about HIV/AIDS and funds for the AIDS Committee of Toronto (ACT). Over 40 communities in Canada will have their own AIDS walks, with Toronto being the largest in the country. The Walk last year raised $420,000 for ACT, which focuses on outreach, education, and prevention programs; organizers hope to reach $500,000 in 2011.

The funds are crucial, notes John Maxwell, Director of Programs and Services of ACT, especially because of stirrings of funding cuts at City Hall. “There are many programs that are under review, including community grants which go toward HIV prevention and support and harm reduction programming,” he says. “They’ve all been identified for potential cuts, so that could have a serious impact on our ability to deliver programs and services.” The Walk isn’t political, says Maxwell, but with possible cuts at hand, fundraising is important to decrease reliance on government funding.

While some proposed budgetary cuts such as library closures are broadly opposed, community grants may not evoke the same reaction. Maxwell believes many people don’t realize HIV infections are still happening in Toronto, and still think of HIV/AIDS as more as a foreign issues, in “developing countries, or in Africa.”

This perception comes about as a bittersweet consequence from the increased care available to people affected by HIV/AIDS. “We’ve been fortunate that new HIV treatments—particularly those since 1996—have dramatically prolonged people’s lives. The visual day-to-day reality of HIV is certainly not what it was in the 1980s when there were no treatments, when people were getting sick and dying,” says Maxwell. “That’s changed now, so, in a way, HIV isn’t so visible in our city, but unfortunately that leads people to think that HIV isn’t here anymore.”

The conversation around HIV and AIDS may also be muted because its transmission is primarily through drug use and sexual activities—subjects our society still isn’t comfortable discussing, suggests Maxwell. Sunday, then, will be a chance to raise awareness about HIV/AIDS: “We have to let people know that, yes, there are treatments, but they are treatments for the rest of your life. There are side effects. And, there is still a lot of stigma associated with HIV and AIDS with communities that are most affected.”

Despite the obstacles, Maxwell says the mood for Sunday—which includes performances by Jully Black, a community fair, and a beer garden—will be an uplifting one: “We want to celebrate the successes we have made over the past 25 years.”

Photos courtesy of ACT.