AIDS awareness pushed for immigrants
Published Saturday, July 19, 2008 4:40PM CST
An Ethiopian woman living in Winnipeg wants more done to protect immigrant families from HIV and AIDS.
Aynai Ali has set up an HIV awareness program called Connecting Communities and the group was getting their message across to immigrant families spending their Saturday in Central Park.
And people like Arlene Elliott have come to get tested for the disease - which is part of the Connecting Communities program.
"You need a mother to be strong and healthy and set an example," she said. "I'm ready to be tested. I'm ready to take what comes."
Many don't know they have HIV
Of all the people who have HIV right now in Manitoba, roughly 400 -- or 30 per cent -- don't know they have it, according to the Nine Circles Community Health Centre.
And a recent study from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control said nearly 16 per cent of all new HIV infections in Canada are linked to people from HIV-prevalent countries, compared to just 1.5 per cent among the Canadian population.
It's a dangerous scenario that has led to two scary criminal cases that made local headlines last week.
In one incident, an HIV-positive African immigrant in Winnipeg was convicted of having unprotected sex with women and not telling them about his condition.
The 34-year-old man from Zambia was found guilty of two counts of aggravated sexual assault.
Just days earlier, a Sudanese immigrant with HIV was convicted in a separate case for having unprotected sex with six young Winnipeg women.
Although those are extreme cases, the danger is still prevalent and Aynai Ali wants to minimize that danger. She knows the pain and suffering HIV-AIDS can cause. On a recent trip home to Africa, she watched helplessly as a child died of AIDS.
Trip home changed life
"It was very hard for me to lose a child five years old," she told CTV's Stacey Ashley. "I have three kids, you know. My son was the same age as him. It was very emotional to me."
Ail returned to Canada where she led a fund raising effort that contributed $11,000 for a new shelter for HIV/AIDS orphans.
Ali said she believes there's not enough HIV awareness in Canada, especially for new immigrants. Many newcomers think Canada is HIV-free.
"A lot of immigrants and refugees become infected after they arrive in Canada," said Arlene Elliott. "It's the lack of access: food, clothing, and employment -- all of those things ends up causing people to be put into situations."
And programs like Connecting Communities may soon be coupled with tougher legislation for immigrants when it comes to HIV.
Right now new immigrants to Canada are not legally bound to report if they have HIV, even though they must declare if they have other diseases like tuberculosis or syphilis.
HIV is designated as a notifiable disease, where there's no mandatory follow up for these people once their in Canada.
The Centre for Disease Control is urging the government to make HIV a reportable disease would help ensure HIV positive immigrants are made aware of their condition, and also get the counselling and treatment they need. It says some HIV-positive immigrants are falling through the health-care cracks.
"It's their duty to declare their HIV," said Raymond, another immigrant at the Winnipeg testing site on Saturday. "By doing so they're not just protecting their body but their community."
With a report from CTV's Stacey Ashley.