Walk for AIDS, walk for women

Exactly two years ago this week, I was at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, covering it for the

Exactly two years ago this week, I was at the 16th International AIDS Conference in Toronto, covering it for the magazine I was working for at the time. There was a sense of pride and optimisim about Toronto that week, as tens of thousands of delegates from around the world descended on the city with the goal of working together to address the global health crisis presented by HIV-AIDS. Now, two years later, the world has gathered again, in Mexico City, for the 17th International AIDS Conference—and Canadians are being forced to review their country’s role in combatting the epidemic—here and abroad.

So how is our country faring, eh? Unfortunately, when it comes to women, Canada is failing. The epidemic here may be small, in comparison to many other countries, but its impact is being increasingly felt by Canadian women. According to the 2007 AIDS epidemic update from the United Nations:

"women [in Canada] represent an increasing proportion of estimated new HIV infections: 27 percent in 2005, compared to 24 percent in 2002; and 12 percent from 1985 to 1997."

What’s more, Aboriginal women are disproportionately affected: women accounted for a whopping 60 percent of reported new HIV infections among Aboriginal people in 2005. And there’s no reason to believe the numbers are any lower today. The main routes of infection for Canadian women have been, and continue to be, heterosexual contact and injection drug use.

So how can you help?

First, engage in the politics of the healthcare and health education and support evidence-based policies that prevent the spread of infection, such as sex education in schools, condom use and harm reduction efforts aimed at injection drug users.

The second way is money. There are plenty of opportunities to fundraise for the cause: Foremost among them is the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for LIfe, which takes place in various Canadian cities (for a list, visit aidswalkforlife.ca) between September 14 and 21, 2008. In fact, it’s the perfect time to sign up and start fundraising! By walking for AIDS this September, you’ll be walking for women.

Third, volunteer with your local AIDS organization, such as the AIDS Committee of Toronto, which are providing valuable information and support services to women in your community. Check out AIDSvolunteers.ca, an umbrella organization that matches applicants with both on-site and virtual volunteer opportunities. They work with hundreds of local, regional and national AIDS service organizations that need your help.