It’s been 30 years since the first-ever World AIDS Day, and activists in Calgary say it’s remarkable how far the world has come, but there’s still a lot of work to do
World AIDS Day was established at the height of the AIDS crisis to create awareness around HIV/AIDS, promote potential cures, and remember lives lost.
Gerry McConnery remembers the early days. The Calgary man has been living with HIV for 30 years. He said he still thinks back to a month in the early 90s, where he attended eight funerals for friends who died of the disease.
“I’m really proud of where we are, but the stigma of people with HIV and AIDS is just amazing still today,” he said. “The fear is kind of disappearing, but the stigma and discrimination is still there.”
McConnery was one of about 100 people at the Word AIDS Day event on Friday, hosted by Calgary’s HIV Community Link. He said it’s been interesting to see how the community has changed over the years.
“The social aspect of it is totally different today than it was 20 years ago. Now we’re so diverse — it used to be 80 per cent gay men with a little sprinkling of people who use drugs and a few heterosexual women and men,” he said.
“A lot of people in that room that are HIV positive didn’t see those beginning times when we were losing all of these people, so they don’t have the same perspective that we do today.”
Recent advancements in treatment are one thing they celebrate every year, said Leslie Hill, executive director of Calgary’s HIV Community Link.
“The medications have improved so much that you can get to the point now where, if you’re taking your medication regularly, the viral load in your body is undetectable. And when you’re undetectable, then your risk of transmitting to a partner is negligible,” she said.
The Alberta government announced in September it would provide universal coverage for PrEP — an HIV-prevention drug that is up to 99 per cent effective at stopping transmission of the disease.
Hill called the PrEP funding a “huge game-changer” for the community.
“I’m hoping what we see in 10 years is potentially that transmission of HIV in Canada has reduced to almost nothing and that people all have access to the treatments that they need. And that people are living long and healthy full lives,” she said.
According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, more than 63,000 people were HIV-positive in 2016, but the advancements in medication mean the disease is more manageable and people are able to live relatively normal lives.
McConnery said he worries the longer life expectancy with the disease could mean people stop being vigilant when it comes to prevention.
“We’re not dying at the same rate anymore, so there’s not that fear,” McConnery said. “I have a fear people aren’t going to use protection. And I just look at the numbers of people living with HIV — it just keeps going up and up.”
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Sherwood Park is a large hamlet in Alberta, Canada within Strathcona County that is recognized as an urban service area. It is located adjacent to the City of Edmonton’s eastern boundary, generally south of Highway 16 (Yellowhead Trail), west of Highway 21 and north of Highway 630 (Wye Road). Other portions of Sherwood Park extend beyond Yellowhead Trail and Wye Road, while Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) separates Refinery Row to the west from the balance of the hamlet to the east.
Sherwood Park was established in 1955 on farmland of the Smeltzer family, east of Edmonton. With a population of 70,618 in 2016, Sherwood Park has enough people to be Alberta’s seventh largest city, but technically retains the status of a hamlet. The Government of Alberta recognizes the Sherwood Park Urban Service Area as equivalent to a city.
Sherwood Park, originally named Campbelltown, was founded by John Hook Campbell and John Mitchell in 1953 when the Municipal District of Strathcona No. 83 approved their proposed development of a bedroom community east of Edmonton. The first homes within the community were marketed to the public in 1955. Canada Post intervened on the name of Campbelltown due to the existence of several other communities in Canada within the same name, so the community’s name was changed to Sherwood Park in 1956.
The Sherwood Park Urban Service Area is located in the Edmonton Capital Region along the western edge of central Strathcona County adjacent to the City of Edmonton. The majority of the community is bound by Highway 16 (Yellowhead Highway) to the north, Highway 21 to the east, Highway 630 (Wye Road) to the south, and Anthony Henday Drive (Highway 216) to the west. The Refinery Row portion of Sherwood Park is located across Anthony Henday Drive to the west, between Sherwood Park Freeway and Highway 16. Numerous developments fronting the south side of Wye Road, including Wye Gardens, Wye Crossing, Salisbury Village and the Estates of Sherwood Park, are also within the community. Lands north of Highway 16 and south of Township Road 534/Oldman Creek between Range Road 232 (Sherwood Drive) to the west and Highway 21 to the east are also within the Sherwood Park urban service area.