A ‘disease of ignorance’

On Dec. 1, World AIDS Day will be celebrated internationally, and third-year Laurier student Kyle Gerow wants to make sure that Wilfrid Laurier University students pay attention to this important, yet often overlooked, issue.

Dignitas Laurier is a group Gerow formed that recently gained official Wilfrid Laurier University Students’ Union club status.

The club aims to make partnerships with other groups in the Kitchener-Waterloo region and to get people talking about what HIV/AIDS is, what is currently being done to improve the situation and what still needs to be done to help those living with the disease.

The group is a youth chapter of Dignitas International, which is a medical humanitarian organization formed by global health experts to improve the quality of life for those affected by HIV/AIDS, as well as connect people in developing countries.
 
“There are Dignitas groups at universities all across Canada. I recognized the deficiency at Laurier. We have such a strong volunteer base, so I thought, why don’t we have this here?” explained Gerow.
 
There are Dignitas youth chapters throughout North America; 16 of them are at Canadian post-secondary schools, including Carleton, McGill, McMaster, Queen’s, Ryerson, York, University of Alberta and Simon Fraser.

At the first meeting of Dignitas Laurier on Friday evening, an inspiring speech was given by University of Waterloo student Alexandra Hick.

Hick has been committed to supporting AIDS awareness since she was nine years old, counts Stephen Lewis (former United Nations Special Envoy for AIDS in Africa) as her personal friend and mentor and currently works with the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo and Area (ACCKWA).

During the meeting, Hick stated that, “HIV/AIDS is a disease of ignorance but it’s also a disease of many other things: of gender inequality, of unequal distribution of wealth, of sexual violence … but ignorance is by far the number one cause of HIV/AIDS transmission in our world.

“The only thing we can do is talk about it.”

Hick commented that while HIV/AIDS was a hot topic in the 1980s and ‘90s, the media hype has since died down.

Our generation doesn’t talk about it as much today, despite the fact that the disease is still a threat.

Talking about HIV/AIDS is exactly what Dignitas Laurier intends to make happen both on and off campus, with the help of ACCKWA, student groups and the city of Waterloo.

On Nov. 26, ACCKWA is holding an event in Uptown Waterloo square where members of the community will be dressed in red, creating the formation of a large AIDS awareness ribbon.

Hicks concluded the discussion by saying, “The bottom line with HIV/AIDS is that people are sick and tired of listening to the same old people, and it’s always a great thing to have new people that want to speak up about this disease.”

Facts and Figures

33 million – number of people living with HIV

3/4 – of all HIV-related deaths occur in Sub-Saharan Africa

73,000 – Canadians living with HIV

90 % – of all Eastern European/Central Asian infections occur in Russia and Ukraine

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