The HIV/AIDS pandemic is one of the most serious global health challenges faced around the world today. HIV, a virus that leads to the disease AIDS, was first acquired by humans from blood contact with chimpanzees in West Africa (1), and eventually transmitted to society through unprotected sex, shared needles, childbirth and breastfeeding (2). It attacks the immune system, leaving the body unable to guard itself from infections and diseases. Currently, there is no effective cure. According to WHO, a total estimate of 39 million people have died since its first cases were reported back in 1981 and as of 2013 approximately 35 million people worldwide are currently living with HIV/AIDS (3).
Not only does HIV/AIDS destroy the health of individuals, but it also infects a nation’s economy and development. Despite all the current global efforts undertaken to combat this epidemic, more action needs to be taken in order to fight stigma, improve education, raise awareness, and increase funding for HIV/AIDS research. Fortunately, the international World AIDS Day provides a global platform with which to engage the global citizen in discussions about the many health challenges of HIV/AIDS.
U of T World AIDS Day (WAD) will be held this year on the evening of December 1st in the Hart House Great Hall. This event commemorates all the members of the community that have been taking action through research, educational and service initiatives aimed at fighting against HIV/AIDS pandemic. First led by Elayna Fremes and Judy Kopelow in 2004, WAD has been traditionally organized through Dalla Lana School of Public Health. However, since 2014 the honor of hosting this scholarly event has been handed over to Global Health Engage (GHE), a student-run committee of the University Toronto International Health Program (UTIHP). “Engage, Connect and Contribute” are the foundational pillars that GHE stands upon. The group uses a multidisciplinary approach to create a platform for meaningful discussion, thoughtful engagement, and interactive networking.
Ultimately, GHE strives to emphasize the power of unity by incorporating partners from a multitude of backgrounds in all their events and initiatives. In particular, for the WAD event, they hope to showcase speakers who focus on both the clinical and social aspects of HIV/AIDS, to provide attendees with a holistic analysis of the issues at hand. In addition, the event will feature an NGO Fair and several artistic performances. Notably, GHE plans to partner up with University College again to light up UC’s building in red, as an illustration of the university’s unmoving support in the fight against HIV/AIDS. They also plan on having the Carillon, the toll of the Hart House Bell Tower, play at the end of the event. Preceding WAD, GHE hopes to collaborate with other HIV/AIDS advocate groups in the university, to organize smaller-scale educational events during an AIDS Awareness Week, running from Nov. 23rd to 27th 2015. Last year, GHE hosted “Around the World in 90 minutes”, an event that facilitated conversations regarding an amplitude of global health topics, between small groups of students and guest speakers in an intimate and fast-paced setting, similar to a speed-dating format. They plan to do the same this year, but have them on a monthly basis.
All in all, GHE’s concrete motto: “Engage, Connect and Contribute” appeals highly to anyone in the university community with an interest in global health, and a passion to take action.
WRITTEN BY: Faizah Haleem – Third year student, Major in Health and Disease and double minor in Immunology and Psychology
Faizah is a journalist on the editorial team in UTIHP, a research assistant in the Computational Affective Neuroscience Lab, and a devoted volunteer in the veteran’s center at Sunnybrook Health Sciences.
- What Is HIV/AIDS? https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/what-is-hiv-aids/index.html
- How Do You Get HIV or AIDS? https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/how-you-get-hiv-aids/index.html
- Global Statistics. https://www.aids.gov/hiv-aids-basics/hiv-aids-101/global-statistics/index.html