Adults, children and dogs took part in Walk for Life events organized by the Northern AIDS Connection Society during the weekend.
“Young people really need to hear the message about HIV/AIDS and stigma/discrimination so it’s great to see so many young people here today,” said Al McNutt, the founder of the NACS and the person who organized the first AIDS walk in the area in 1996, as he looked around at those taking part in the Truro event. “Years ago you would never have seen this many young people involved in the walk.”
He said that it is important for people to realize that HIV/AIDS is still a major health issue which causes many deaths.
“It’s not going away. It’s still 100 per cent preventable but still 100 per cent fatal.”
He believes that people often don’t realize how many people are dying from the disease because the deaths are often attributed to other causes.
The medication he takes for AIDS causes high cholesterol and high blood pressure, so if he died his death could be attributed to heart problems instead of AIDS. Many people die from heart conditions, cancer and diabetes due to complications of HIV or the medication used to treat it.
He said that there has been a lot of talk about a new vaccine, but people should not expect too much from this as the vaccine may only be effective against one strain of HIV that is found in Thailand.
McNutt feels that people often don’t think about the fact that they could be contracting HIV.
“There are so many STI’s (sexually transmitted infections) and there is so much teen pregnancy,” he said. “People keep missing the point that if they are getting pregnant and getting other STI’s they could be getting HIV at the same time.”
Funds raised through the walk go to help with the costs of educational and prevention programs related to HIV/AIDS. Although the people involved volunteer their time, there are costs for materials.
McNutt has done many talks himself, telling people what it is like to live with the disease and trying to help others avoid contracting it.
Some of the young people who participated in this year’s walk were on the John Howard Restorative Justice team.
Often, young people don’t get involved because of the stigma and discrimination of the disease,” said Susan Henderson, director of the society. “I thought it was wonderful to have young people offering to get involved and going door-to-door for donations.”
Josh MacNeil Johnson, who is 13, was the youngest of those on the team.
“I made $39.45,” he said. “My mum asked me if I wanted to do it and I figured it would be cool.”
Adam Houlihan, 16, heard about it through his friend’s mother and felt joining in would be a good idea.
“It’s a good cause but I didn’t even know about it until now,” he said. “I will take part in it again.”
NACS members held four walks in the province- in Truro, Amherst, New Glasgow and Elmsdale. Other groups organize walks in Halifax and Cape Breton.