By Tsion Demeke Abate
I was born and raised in Addis Ababa, Ethiopia and have been living in Edmonton for over 12 years. Throughout my career, I have worked with marginalized populations and have also taught in higher education institutions in both cities. I am fascinated by broader social justice and human rights issues, and my Master’s thesis was about transforming the lives of women living with HIV in sub-Saharan Africa.
I am happy to say that February 7, 2016 marks the second year of the African, Caribbean and Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day – a day to raise awareness that the risk of HIV infection among African, Caribbean and Black Canadians (ACB) is higher than other Canadians. This day is founded as a national response to the growing HIV and AIDS epidemic in ACB communities in Canada.
1 in 7 people living with HIV in Canada are ACB while only 1 in 35 people living in Canada are from ACB communities. ACB people face various forms of stigma, discrimination and oppression. In addition, there are factors that increase vulnerability to HIV among ACB people at risk of, or living with, HIV infection such as those based on gender, sexual orientation and socio-economic status. With alarming indicators such as these, we are hopeful that the African, Caribbean and Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day will provide a platform for discussions around HIV and AIDS.
Perhaps our biggest challenge is HIV-related stigma. It is an obstacle to HIV prevention, testing and treatment. People avoid testing because some fear a positive result and the stigma associated with it. For people living with HIV, fear of disclosure means that the virus remains invisible, which can lead to feelings of loneliness and despair. This continued stress and isolation caused by stigma can worsen the health of people living with HIV.
Further, poor experiences within the healthcare system and a lack of confidence and trust towards healthcare professionals can be a huge deterrent to testing. As a result, people may be reluctant to access health and social services. So, how can we raise awareness about the experience and impact of HIV-related stigma on ACB communities among health and social service professionals? The best way to encourage access to services for ACB communities is through health promotion practices.
That is why the African, Caribbean and Black Canadian HIV/AIDS Awareness Day is important. We want to encourage people to start a conversation at home and in their communities. We want to be successful in engaging Canada’s ACB communities in a dialogue about HIV and HIV-related stigma.
For helpful information around how we can eliminate stigma and build empowerment within our communities, check out the HIV Stigma in African, Caribbean and Black communities’ factsheet.
Tsion was awarded the 2015 RISE Award (Recognizing Immigrant Success in Edmonton), in community leadership in the Immigrant category. HIV Edmonton is proud to have this outstanding woman as part of the team!