During a gathering at Nelson United Church on World AIDS Day on Tuesday afternoon, Amberstaar Pyper stood before those gathered and share a song about losing her spouse to the disease.
“Please hear what I say,” she sang. “Don’t push me away.”
Hosted by ANKORS, the day also involved a candlelit vigil, testimonies from those living with AIDS, and an open discussion about the challenges they face and the need for more community education.
This year’s theme is Getting to Zero — which means organizers are aiming for no AIDS deaths, no discrimination and no new infections.
“There are so many levels of stigma,” ANKORS’ Cheryl Dowden told the crowd. “We need to start breaking down the barriers and fences we’ve built around ourselves.”
Dowden said many of those with AIDS face what they call syndemics, which is multiple epidemics at one time. And, as with other marginalized groups in the area, housing is a huge priority.
“This is not just happening in Nelson. It’s happening everywhere. The demand for care is outweighing the supply.”
That means support workers are often stretched to the max trying to help.
“Being without a home is a full-time job,” outreach worker Vanessa Alexander said, reminding those present not to fall into the trap of thinking of those diagnosed with AIDS as “those people” but as “those of us.”
“We’re all in this together,” she said.
More than 35 million people have died of HIV and AIDS since the virus was first identified over 30 years ago. According to national statistics, approximately 75,000 Canadians were living with HIV at the end of 2014.