Organizers, local politicians, supporters and runners gathered outside Ottawa City Hall on June 25, 2015, to mark the start of the provincial leg of a nationwide run in support of HIV/AIDS research.
The Mylan Relay for Hope rolled into the nation’s capital after starting its roughly 8,500-kilometre trek more than two months ago in St John’s, NL, en route to its final destination — the aptly named community of Hope, BC.
Organized by pharmaceutical firm Mylan in partnership with the Canadian AIDS Society, the relay raises funds for people living with or at risk of HIV/AIDS, and promotes awareness and education about the disease for all Canadians.
“What we have today is an inspiration of a relay,” says Paul Dewar, NDP MP for Ottawa-Centre, who was on hand for the provincial launch event. “I think it’s a great metaphor because this a race for people’s lives and this is to make sure we stay with those who need our support.”
Dewar also applauded the cooperation from the supportive organizations in attendance at the event, including fitness store The Running Room and Bruce House, a community-based organization providing housing, compassionate care and support for people living with HIV and AIDS in Ottawa.
The nation-spanning trek also serves an important role in combatting the all-too prevalent stigma attached to those living with the illness, says Kim Thomas, acting chief executive officer for the Canadian AIDS Society.
Evoking the memory of Terry Fox’s famous nation-spanning run in 1980 to raise funds for cancer research, Thomas says she hopes the Mylan relay will have a similar impact on the Canadian public consciousness.
“I’m of that age that I remember very vividly Terry Fox breaking down so much stigma and misunderstanding about cancer around Canada,” she says. “I really believe in what’s happening . . . with this group of runners to help us break down the stigma that is affecting the lives of people with HIV and AIDS.”
The illness represents far more than a medical disease but rather constitutes a social one as well, she says, calling the associating stigma “often worse than the condition itself.”
The national relay features 35 runners divided into teams, each of which is responsible for running the distance in its province.
Ontario runners Robyn Baker-Wright, François Jarry and Nam Pham were on hand at city hall for the introductory event.
As well, a campaign-themed RV transports sections of the Canadian AIDS Memorial Quilt and follows the runners throughout the journey.
They’re also travelling with the Mylan Quilt of Hope — a grassroots idea developed by Mylan and a group of volunteer quilters — and are inviting Canadians along the way to sign a commemorative panel that will be assembled into a larger quilt, to be revealed at the conclusion of the relay.
Tim Smith, vice-president of sales and marketing at Mylan, describes the cooperation between the firm and the Canadian AIDS Society for the run as a “partnership made in heaven,” with the global company boasting a large portfolio of pharmaceuticals to treat HIV and AIDS.
“When the opportunity to came up to raise awareness in Canada . . . it was something there was no question we’d get behind,” he says.