In the early 1990s, John Cameron was unemployed and struggling with a case of depression that he fell into after he was diagnosed with HIV/AIDS. Then a friend named Alicia Mercurio encouraged him to get involved in the community and help coordinating events for World AIDS Day 1994.
Cameron reluctantly agreed. And now, all these years later, he finds himself organizing the largest series of community events for World AIDS Day in Canada.
“We see at least 2,000 people walk through over 13 hours,” Cameron told the Georgia Straight.
The director of the DTES HIV/IDU Consumers Board said that today B.C. has a lot to be proud of when it comes to fighting HIV/AIDS. So much, in fact, that the condition has become mostly manageable for patients who are treated in B.C.’s health-care system. Cameron said that’s led the annual event to branch out a bit. This year, it will also touch on hepatitis infections and the overdose epidemic.
The series of events happens this Friday (December 1) at the Carnegie Community Centre at the intersection of Main and East Hastings streets. It scheduled to begin at 9 a.m. and will run until 9:30 p.m.
The list of speakers is long and impressive. There are also screenings of short films and free food all day. Vancouver Coastal Health will have staff there offering free tests for HIV in the morning and tests for hepatitis in the afternoon. At noon, there will be a memorial for AIDS victims. In addition, more than 40 information booths will also be set up throughout the building.
B.C.’s minister of health, Adrian Dix, and minister of mental health and addictions, Judy Darcy, are both scheduled to attend.
Shane Simson, the B.C. minister of social development and poverty reduction, will also be there, as will David Eby, B.C. attorney general and NDP MLA for Vancouver-Point Grey. Eby is scheduled to deliver a keynote address at 11:30 a.m.
There are also a number of federal politicians who have said they’ll drop by throughout the day. They include Dr. Hedy Fry, Liberal MP for Vancouver Centre; Jenny Kwan; NDP MP for Vancouver East; and Don Davies, NDP MP for Vancouver Kingsway.
Cameron said that he extended invitations to politicians with the goal of a two-way dialogue. He’s interested in hearing what they have to say, but added, “We also get the politicians to come to keep them aware of what’s going on.”
From the nonprofit sector, World AIDS Day at Carnegie will feature Jennifer Breakspear of the Portland Hotel Society; Dr. Brian Chittock of AIDS Vancouver; and Neil Self of the Positive Living Society of B.C., among others.
I’ll be there as well, in the evening, doing a short talk about the role that the Downtown Eastside community played in Vancouver’s response to the AIDS crisis that the city experienced through the early 1990s.
Toward the end of his interview with the Straight, Cameron said he wanted to use the occasion to say thank you to his doctor, Dr. Julio Montaner (whose work at the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is increasingly referenced around the world).
“He’s one of the best,” Cameron said. “And he’s kept me alive all these years.”
World AIDS Day at the Carnegie Community Centre happens this Friday (December 1) at 401 Main Street beginning at 9 a.m.