Hundreds gathered at the Roxy Theatre Sunday afternoon in support of the Saskatoon AIDS Walk.
“We lead the nation in HIV rates, as we have for over a decade, so this initiative is very important for us to help raise this issue in the public’s mind,” said AIDS Saskatoon executive director Jason Mercredi.
“When people engage with our services, the thing they say affects them most is stigma. It’s people making them feel like they don’t belong in the community. People discriminate against them because of their HIV status and so initiatives like this are really good to help us end that stigma,” Mercredi added.
“HIV is something that has such a long history and a very specific history, and like many things in the community, we often forget and carry on with our lives as if we solved that problem or it’s in the past,” said Rachel Loewen Walker, executive director of OUTSaskatoon.
“An event like AIDS Walk is a really good reminder that we haven’t solved that problem; there’s still a lot of work to do. It’s something that really affects our local community and so it’s important for people to see that and for us to be visible about the continued work we need to do.”
This year’s goal was to raise $60,000, which will be split between the two organizations.
“The money raised goes directly back in the community. At AIDS Saskatoon, we spend the money on medical equipment, on initiatives to help people stay engaged in hospital, and we also distribute condoms throughout northern Saskatchewan, where access is fairly limited,” Mercredi said.
“At OUTSaskatoon, the funds raised from AIDS walk go into our PrEP clinic, which is a new initiative that just started in June. It goes into our two-spirit feast and round dance, which we always hold around Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, and it also goes into our queer sexual health testing clinic,” Loewen Walker said.
Saskatchewan’s HIV rate is nearly triple the national average, according to Loewen Walker.