Saskatoon AIDS Walk 2021

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Annual educational fundraiser teams up with Prairie Harm Reduction, OUTSaskatoon, and Saskatoon Sexual Health to help combat HIV/AIDS transmission in Saskatchewan.

Saskatoon AIDS Walk is back in person after taking a year off from the pandemic. The walk is monumental for raising awareness and support for people living with HIV/AIDS. This year, OUTSaskatoon, Prairie Harm Reduction (PHR), and Saskatoon Sexual Health (SSH) have joined as a collective to raise awareness and funds through the fun of fitness for this event.

Saskatoon Sexual Health director and event organizer Heather Hale explains why the event is so important to partake in: “I think that there is a [sic] number of reasons: one is going to be that [the event] is fun, and it engages [the] community and people who are focused on solutions and prevention. People are always looking on how to be involved and participate and this is a great opportunity. Supporting this work indicates that the work these organizations are doing is important.”

Runners began fundraising in late August and will gather to run September 26 in front of the Roxy Theatre in Saskatoon. They will then have a closing ceremony to celebrate the top runners who will receive some extra prizes.

Runners and donors can go to saskatoonsexualhealth.ca to register as an individual or a team and begin fundraising and donating to their favorite teams. The pace and distance at which one goes is flexible, but participants can receive prizes for each milestone they achieve at the 50km, 100km, 250km, 500km, and 1000km marks. All types of runners are encouraged to participate, but Hale emphasizes how the event can be a bonding opportunity for teams: “I think being a part of a team is kind of fun. You get to come together with your friends, family or colleagues and there’s always a bit of competition between team members too.”

The skyrocketing rates of HIV infection in Saskatchewan demonstrate why individuals need to be aware of the ongoing opioid crisis and the importance of properly funding safe consumption areas.

“We know that Saskatchewan has the highest HIV rate in Canada which is double the national average and is fueled by injection drug use and further compounded by crystal meth and the overdose epidemic that our province is facing. But one of the challenges is one in five people who have HIV do not know that they are living with HIV,” said Hale, “and so certainly we want to create awareness about the realities of HIV in Saskatoon, but we also want to celebrate and share the opportunities, the care, the collaboration, the generosity, and spirit within our communities. And what we can do when we come together when we tackle problems.”

Funds raised are going toward each of the organizations involved, who plan on making advances and helping individuals by providing them with sustainable programming.

“Each organization is dedicating funds towards different things,” Hale explains. PHR is putting funds towards “outreach and engagement through their outreach programs and working and supporting sex workers.” Of the plans for her own organization, Hale says at SSH, “we are focused on testing,” which includes “connecting people with testing and treatment and access to knowing their status.” According to Hale, OUTSaskatoon is really “focusing on [the] peer support piece, so making sure folks have access to peer support and navigating systems.”

Additionally, Hale notes that, “unfortunately, the programs and services that are needed in our communities are not supported in the way that they should be, and [the severe underfunding of] safe consumption sites is a pretty glaring example of that.” Thankfully, organizations like PHR, SSH, and OUTSaskatoon, and events like the AIDS walk exist to help combat this crucial and sizable problem.

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