In 1986, during the darkest days of the AIDS epidemic, a group of gay men on the front lines of the battle decided they had to do more than watch their friends die – they founded the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS).
It was a time when gay men were dying in droves while medical professionals stood by helplessly. CAS played a crucial role in educating society and the diverse groups of people at risk for the disease. It held conferences, published many resources and manuals and tirelessly worked with other organizations.
CAS fostered other important national organizations, such as the Canadian Aids Legal network, the Aboriginal AIDS Network and the Canadian AIDS Treatment Action Council. CAS also lobbied Parliament repeatedly, advocating for resources for education, research and treatment.
For all those reasons, CAS was honoured recently by Our Own Health Centre in Winnipeg with its inaugural award in recognition of the contributions of an individual or organization to the health and wellbeing of gay and bisexual men.
“CAS has worked through the inevitable controversies and stayed united in the face of many challenges that arise from the particularly difficult and frightening nature of the virus,” Dr. Dick Smith, one of the founders of the new Winnipeg clinic, said at the awards ceremony. “Having reviewed everything the Canadian AIDs Society has done to address this epidemic over the last 30 years, it would be hard to think of a more worthy recipient of the award,” Smith added in a statement to OutWords.
“A young clinic like this, recognizing the importance of this movement is amazing,” said Gary Lacasse, executive director of CAS when asked what the award means to the organization.
The acceptance of the award was only one of the events on CAS’s busy schedule in Winnipeg in May. Members of their board, staff and representative from some of their 80 national service organizations held their annual general meeting in the city, the first time in many years the event has been held outside of Ottawa.
“Coming to Winnipeg is something we need to be doing more often, since we are a federally funded organization we need to see exactly how the money is being spent across Canada, and Winnipeg is right at the centre,” said Lacasse.
When accepting the award on behalf of CAS, board chair Greg Riehl paid tribute to Our Own Health Centre.
“While much has changed when it comes to living with HIV/AIDS over these past 30 years, some things remain very much the same – such as the need to provide professional, sensitive, flexible, and confidential health care in a comfortable, non-judgmental health setting. This is what I’ve seen today, here in your health centre,” Riehl said.
While Our Own Health Centre supports the one-program 2, sites concentration of HIV care resources and is not an HIV clinic, it plays an important role in HIV prevention and care, said Smith.
“We prescribe PrEP, initially identify the disease and link to specialist HIV (care). We also care for the general health issues of HIV-positive men,” Smith said in a speech at the awards ceremony. “We know that, while other groups have accounted for the majority of new HIV cases in the province in the past, more recently younger men who have sex with men account for the largest group of new cases. Young gay men may seem blasé on the subject, but we have seen the devastating shock a new diagnosis can have on them.”
More information about the Canadian Aids Society can be found at http://www.cdnaids.ca
For further information about Our Own Health Centre visit www.ourownhealth.ca
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