A year ago tomorrow, I was in the foyer of the University of Toronto’s medical building, wearing a sweaty tshirt with a red ribbon on it, peddling my heart out but getting nowhere. I was participating in the Race for Dignity on stationary bikes, raising money for anti-retroviral treatment for Africans living with HIV/AIDS. I never expected then that I would be celebrating the next World Aids Day in Africa while working with non-governmental organizations who deal with primary health care and HIV/AIDS issues every day.
Ethiopia’s experience with the AIDS pandemic is both lucky and unlucky. Estimates say that 1.5million people have been infected here, out of a population of 75million- a devastating number. But, with the institution of universal access to free anti-retroviral treatment comes the possibility of change for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.
Yesterday I went with a coworker to visit Addis Hiwot, an organization of people living with HIV/AIDS. In Amharic, Addis Hiwot means “New Life,” and for the twenty people in the group, the organization has lived up to its name. Yalemzoud Mengistu, one of the members of the group, described to me what her life was like before coming to work in the Addis Hiwot’s recreation centre. AIDS was beating her, leaving her bedridden as a result of her low CD4 count. After receiving ART drugs, Yalemzoud was able to start working again. She told me, “When I was at home, I was thinking about the virus, crying every day. Now, I don’t have the time to think about the virus. I’m busy every day and surrounded by others in the same situation as me.” As well, through the organization, she is able to afford the balanced diet necessary to make the drug cocktail taken by her and her son effective.
The story of Yalemzoud’s situation repeats itself all over Africa, and increasingly, Asia. But most people bedridden with AIDS don’t have the chance to get out of bed and make a new life for themselves.
World Aids Day seems to have more meaning to me than Thanksgiving just past, or Christmas coming up because it deals much more with Humanity. This past summer I was so inspired by the sheer number of people working towards positive change who attended the AIDS 2006 conference in Toronto. But even the thirty or so thousand attendees don’t represent the numbers infected in one Sub-Saharan country, let alone in the whole continent.
I know there’s no turkey, or stockings, or mistletoe, but I urge you to grab hold of World Aids Day somehow so we can better represent the people affected and infected, and mobilize ourselves towards change. I’ll be in Ethiopia, attending the theatre and music festivities in the middle of Addis Ababa.
World Aids Day Actions
• Wear your red ribbon
• Attend an event at your university, high school, community centre
• Donate time or money to an organization working for change
• Read an article to increase your awareness, and then discuss it someone else
• Share whatever action you take, to prompt others to take an action too