The AIDS Committee of Durham Region (ACDR) is holding a regional conference at the end of November.
The conference, running from Nov 27 to 29, will address the efforts of the ACDR to expand its work among the growing Spanish-speaking and migrant populations in the area. It will also explore the work the ACDR is doing with AIDS service organizations in Mexico and Costa Rica.
“The major theme for me is tying together local and global issues across borders and boundaries,” says Tiff Idems, the ACDR’s health promotions coordinator. “A lot of high-risk people who are calling us, who are not getting access to healthcare, are Spanish-speaking. There’s a lot of migrant workers from Mexico who come for the summer growing season and harvest.”
Idems says the ACDR is also working with Comusida, an AIDS service organization in Puerto Vallarta, Mexico and with Humanitas, an organization in Costa Rica.
Irania Ledesma, the ACDR’s twinning project coordinator, says the Durham organization has been working with Comusida since 2004 and Humanitas was added this year.
“The main goal is for those organizations to increase their skills, especially in financial planning development,” says Ledesma. “We exchange information, make exchange visits. Next year we’ll be participating in the International AIDS Conference in Mexico City discussing the facts of HIV in [Mexican and Costa Rican] cities.”
Ledesma says the issue of the growing Spanish-speaking population in Durham region makes the issue even more pressing.
“Only this year we’ve started looking into helping migrant workers not only with HIV but with advocacy in other areas such as getting English as a second language class,” says Ledesma.
“We’re also getting involved with the Hispanic population in Durham region, people who are coming to live permanently, either as immigrants or refugees.”
Idems says the ACDR is working with the Mexican and Costa Rican groups to develop a public marketing campaign in both Spanish and English which will be used in all three countries.
During the conference the ACDR will also hold a fundraising dinner and dance called Fiesta Latina. The proceeds from the fundraiser will go to the ACDR’s twin organizations in Mexico and Costa Rica.
Idems says the conference will also look closely at the issue of criminal nondisclosure of HIV and the growing number of HIV-positive people who are being prosecuted for infecting their partners. Idems says that forcing people to always disclose their HIV status can drive them underground and can put them in danger.
“We want the community to understand the issues around disclosure, how it can put people at risk of emotional and physical violence,” says Idems. “The media has been really instrumental in singling out people living with HIV as vectors of HIV transmission.”
Peter Richtig, ACDR executive director, says having police and the courts take the lead on the issue is misguided.
“We see this as a public health issue, not a criminal issue.”
Idems says everybody has to know how to protect themselves.
“We want people to take responsibility for their own safety when it comes to safe sex,” says Idems.
Richtig says that educating young people about the realities of infection is a major part of that.
“We need to raise awareness of AIDS in this country again to get people’s attention,” says Richtig. “When we go into schools, students think it doesn’t matter if you get infected, you can just take a pill.”
Idems says the ACDR has partnered with the Law Foundation of Ontario — a nonprofit organization operated jointly by the provincial attorney general and the Law Society of Upper Canada which engages in legal education and research — which shares concerns about criminal disclosure. The Foundation is providing funding for people with HIV or AIDS to attend the conference, something Idems says is critically important for the conference to succeed.
“Throughout the conference as many of the speakers as possible are people with HIV, using their own voices, speaking on their own behalf,” says Idems.
The conference will be held at the Carruthers Creek Golf and Country Club in Ajax. Idems admits that it’s not a location one would normally associate with an AIDS conference.
“It’s bizarre, but it’s the space we could afford,” says Richtig. “There aren’t a lot of spaces that have the capacity to provide space and breakfast.”
Idems says the ACDR was hoping for 150 to 200 attendees. So far, she says, about 100 have registered. Deadline for registration is Nov 16, although Idems says there is some flexibility for latecomers.
The conference is being funded by the Ontario Ministry of Health’s AIDS Bureau, which has provided $5,000, and by various pharmaceutical companies, several of which are also sponsoring medical speakers.