News  AIDS elephant in the room

Global AIDS Week at McGill aims to clear up clichés

A chicken-wire elephant frame – standing a metre-and-a-half tall – will be papier-mâchéd, covered in 1,200 condoms, and moved across campus as part of a McGill’s Global AIDS Week campaign, running all next week.

“AIDS is the elephant in the room. No one wants to talk about it,” explained McGill Global AIDS Week coordinator Dasami Moodley, U3 Political Science. “It’s [a sexually transmitted infection (STI)], and you can get it from having sex. World AIDS Week at McGill is about starting conversation.”

Moodley hopes the events planned by the McGill AIDS Coalition (MCAC) will break down clichés and taboos attached to AIDS. She pointed to next Wednesday’s coffee house discussion with Philip Osano, a PhD candidate in geography, on HIV among eastern Africa’s Lake Victoria fishing communities.

“We want to make the student population more aware of special issues they wouldn’t otherwise be able to know about. Something students would[n’t] see on the news,” Moodley said.

Other events include a workshop Tuesday on being an ally to HIV-positive people and a documentary screening Monday of A Closer Walk, which tells the story of the human side of AIDS from Cambodia to Switzerland to South Africa.

“We want to bring a face to HIV that isn’t black, necessarily,” Moodley said.

Dr. Kenneth Mayer will give a keynote address next Friday that looks back on 30 years of progress and challenges of the global AIDS epidemic. Mayer is on the frontlines of research into microbicides, a gel applied to the vagina or rectum that doctors hope could protect against HIV. No effective microbicide has been developed as of yet.

Nikki Bozinoff, a former Daily editor who sat on the MCAC Global AIDS Week committee, explained that microbicides could empower women in the face of the AIDS epidemic.

“Women don’t have a choice whether their partners wear a condom. [If micobicides are developed], women can make a choice without their partner’s knowledge or consent,” said Bozinoff.

The theme of the 20th annual Global AIDS week is Take the Lead, a message Moodley considers particularly relevant to the McGill student body.

“As students, it’s very important we step up as youth activists,” she said.

Students gathered in the Shatner Building’s fourth-floor club space yesterday to train tabling staff. At the tables, students can buy AIDS ribbons or sign a petition urging the Canadian government to increase national donations to the Global AIDS fund and basic foreign aid.

Bearing in mind local populations, MCAC will distribute business cards at tables that encourage students to get tested for HIV. MCAC collaborated with Head & Hands, a community health centre in Notre-Dame-de-Grâce, to offer students two days of free, anonymous AIDS testing.

In the four years Moodley has worked with MCAC, she has noticed that students are reluctant to get tested for HIV.

“You’ll get a Pap smear but people don’t get tested for HIV because they think it has nothing to do with them. [But] we want to get it into people’s faces.”