December 9, 2023

Group Health Centre HARP effort seeks to promote advancements made in treating the virus

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Group Health Centre’s HIV and AIDS Resource Program (HARP) launches its fourth annual Red Lock campaign across the Algoma District, coinciding with the start of HIV Awareness Week, beginning Nov.  24.

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This will continue until World AIDS Day, recognized internationally on Dec.1 and the beginning of Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week.

Worlds AIDS Day’s theme this year is the word, “equalize,” a “call to action” and a reminder to work toward the “proven practical measures” needed to address inequalities and “help end” AIDS, a GHC release said Tuesday.

“Ontario HIV Programs are working every day to remove barriers for people obtaining HIV testing and treatment, whether it be access to HIV self-tests or simply helping people to get to appointments,” said Shana Shipperbottom, support services at HARP.

HARP’s Red Lock campaign is designed to raise awareness about HIV and promote the advancements that have been made in treating the virus.

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The goal, GHC said, is to “shift the conversation to one of compassion and support,” emphasizing the importance of being tested. Through this campaign, HARP said it hopes to end the stigma associated with the virus, the most significant barrier to people seeking testing and treatment.

“There’s still so many myths and misconceptions out there – it’s about willingness to learn from a place of compassion and understanding that people on effective HIV treatment can’t pass the virus on,” Shipperbottom said.

This year’s campaign will feature 4 Red Lock installations and many displays across Sault Ste. Marie, including Group Health Centre, Sault Area Hospital, Fort Creek, and the boardwalk. These displays, GHC said, have been installed to raise awareness, help reduce barriers and provide education about HIV and AIDS.

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HARP invites residents to visit a display and take a lock, a “gift to remind us that despite our differences, we hold the key to unlocking love, hope and acceptance.”

Residents are also encouraged to take a picture with the lock and post it to social media accounts with the hashtag #hivawareness and tag @HARPAlgoma on Instagram or Facebook.

Information displays will also be located in Wawa, Thessalon First Nation, Mississauga First Nation, Blind River, Elliot Lake, Serpent River First Nation, Michipicoten First Nation, Garden River First Nation, and Batchewana First Nation, in addition to 40 partners and agencies with which HARP works to get the word out about the campaign.

Group Health Centre bills HARP as the “leading” source of information on HIV and confidential support for people living in the Algoma District.

HARP offers an “understanding, supportive” environment with a “wide variety” of prevention information and access to harm-reduction materials, GHC said.

Displays will be up until Dec. 7.

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