AIDS walk puts money back into local HIV/AIDS support system

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HIV-Ribbon

Organizers of this year’s Scotiabank AIDS Walk For Life Chatham are hoping it brings awareness about the disease and puts it back on the public’s radar.

Raising $7,000 last year, the AIDS Support Chatham-Kent team are setting the same goal for this year.

With support from United Way of Chatham-Kent and money raised, funds go to support local AIDS organization programs.

“Some of the programs it goes directly to support is people with HIV/AIDS in different capacities. It may be medical expenses or drives to medical appointments,” said AIDS Support Chatham-Kent Associate Director of Resources Karyn O’Neil.

O’Neil says that while there are people more at risk for contracting the disease like those in the sex trade or who use drugs intravenously, she says everyone is at risk.

With a person dying of HIV or HIV-related causes every 1.75 days in Canada and the infection rate increasing the last two years to the 1980s levels, the event is more important than ever.

With no minimum pledge required, everyone is welcome to join the walk at Mud Creek Park right behind John McGregor Secondary School on Sept. 15.

Registration begins at noon until 1 p.m. with a brief opening ceremony before the 5K walk through the park starts, finishing with a BBQ and entertainment.

This year, the national event will have speakers – United Way of Chatham-Kent CEO Karen Kirkwood-Whyte and AIDS Committee of Windsor board president Mike Hamilton.

Hamilton, is also a longtime AIDS survivor.

“It isn’t so much the old sad story, it’s more of, ‘This is where we are now and this is where we look to go in the future,’ because is there a cure? No, but because of our current medical and pharmaceutical regimes, we’re able to live longer lives,” said Hamilton.

With survivors living longer, Hamilton said they still have questions remaining about what the rest of their lives will be like, which can only be answered over time.

Diagnosed in 1985, Hamilton said the disease changed his life and kids today in school with the help of school boards, need to be educated on the severity of contracting the disease.

“The awareness about HIV has really fallen off the public’s map and the media’s map and we need to reinitiate awareness in the community,” said Hamilton about why the event was introduced to the area last year.

“When you get that diagnosis, it changes everything, from your diet, your day-to-day peace of mind right up to the level at which you’re engaged with the medical establishment,” he added.

Hamilton, like others with HIV, has turned what was negative into a positive. Working to make a difference in others’ lives, he expects this year’s event to grow.

Those wishing to participate can register either at the walk or online at aidswalkforlife.ca/chatham where they can also make a pledge.

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