30 years on, Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life still as important as ever

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      With medical treatments extending the lifespans of those living with HIV, some people, particularly youth, might mistakenly think that the disease is not as pressing a concern as it once was. 

      But someone like Wayne Campbell, who lived through and bore witness to how disease devastated entire communities, can provide a historical context that puts things into perspective.

      "I've seen the waves of deaths that have gone through when you'd meet someone and they'd be gone a month later because of the rampant disease," he said in a phone interview. "And I've seen that change in 1986 with the introduction of protease inhibitors when people who were on their deathbeds had basically completed the Lazarus Effect and returned to life and are now raising grandchildren."

      Campbell, a Positive Living Society of British Columbia prison outreach worker and former board of directors chair, started working in the HIV/AIDS movement in 1984 and has volunteered for the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life every year since 1991. This year, the walk (which was the first AIDS walk in Canada) is celebrating its 30th anniversary. It'll be held on Sunday (September 20), starting at Sunset Beach.

      Campbell has deep ties to the walk because he lost a partner to the disease, a time when there weren't any antiretroviral therapies available.

      Over the 22 years that Campbell has worked for the Positive Living Society of British Columbia, he has seen the numerous medical improvements reflected in the state of the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life.

      "As medications have become more efficient, we see people living longer and the number people participating in the walk change," he said. "The feel that death is surrounding us is not there anymore. We see people with renewed optimism and renewed hope….We used to see a lot of family and friends who were pushing people who were at the end stages of life. We saw that visual frequently of people who were not long for this earth. We don't see that much anymore. We see people who are now fully active with their lives. Their family and friends are there to support them in living instead of dying."

      Positive Living BC's Wayne Campbell has seen numerous changes to the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life over the decades.

      Yet there's a flipside to those positive changes. 

      With extended lifespans of those living with HIV and a decreased sense of urgency, Campbell has noticed that people are less inclined to be involved in fundraising. That, coupled with a decrease in donations since the economic downturn in 2008 and the growth of numerous other fundraising events and walks in the city, has made efforts all the more challenging.

      This year, Campbell said they're still hoping to raise about $200,000, the same as the amount raised last year. He explained that the donations support community health fund which they distribute funds through.

      In spite of the progress in dealing with HIV since the '80s, Campbell, emphasizes the importance of the walk shouldn't be underplayed.

      "HIV is still a disease. There's still a high number of people at risk for catching this disease. There still needs to be education. It's still important because the youth need this information and supporting those people who are currently living with it will allow them to potentially return back to an active life."

      A photo from Positive Living Society of B.C.'s archives from a previous AIDS Walk for Life.

      He noted that he finds that younger generations tend to think "they're invincible" and that they have less to worry about now that there are HIV medications. However, he reasserted that there are numerous concerns that still exist.  

      "There's a lot more knowledge around HIV and AIDS but there's still barriers. HIV prevention still can't be taught in schools largely unless it's at college level. Trying to get sex education to younger people is always going to be a challenge. There's still stigma and discrimination that is rampant within the province. That hasn't really changed much. It's slowly decreasing. It's not as bad as it was in the early '80s and '90s but it is still there."

      For more information about the walk, visit the Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life website.

      You can follow Craig Takeuchi on Twitter at twitter.com/cinecraig. You can also follow the Straight's LGBT coverage on Twitter at twitter.com/StraightLGBT.