African-Canadian Community Grapples With AIDS ‘Stigma’

Metro News (Halifax), January 12, 2009

AIDS remains a disproportionate threat to Nova Scotia’s African-Canadian community and the recent “criminalization” of the disease has made matters worse, experts say.

Larry Baxter is chairman of the Nova Scotia Advisory Commission on AIDS. He has said the province’s strategy on HIV-AIDS, announced in 2003, lacked input from black communities.

“I don’t think much has changed,” he said yesterday. “There are still issues of stigma, lack of information and lack of discussion within the community.”

Two cases in Ontario where HIV-positive men were charged after having sex with women and not disclosing their status may discourage some men from getting tested, Baxter said.

“There’s the thinking that if you don’t know, you can’t be held criminally liable,” he said.

David Divine, the James R. Johnston Chair in Black Canadian Studies at Dalhousie University, said the bigger problem is funding and attitude.

“In terms of a general movement of interest and information gathering, that most definitely has increased (since 2003),” he said.

“You can have significant sums of money available to an agency, but if the right people are not in that agency with the right attitudes . . . you’re not going to get anywhere.”

Divine said it’s difficult for a black person to go for an AIDS test. “They are continuously afraid of being discriminated against not only because of their colour, but because the very possibility of having HIV-AIDS carries such a profound stigma.”

The Health Association of African Canadians is making dealing with AIDS one of its focuses for African Heritage Month in February. President Phyllis Marsh-Jarvis said fear, religious beliefs and stigma play a key role in discouraging people in her community from discussing AIDS.

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