Behind the Green Apron: Raising Awareness in the Fight against HIV and AIDS One Person at a Time

World AIDS Day

As the world contends with rising cases in the COVID-19 pandemic, the impact of another serious illness continues to be felt in communities both at home and abroad.

Over the last four years in Canada alone, the number of new HIV cases has risen by more than 25 per cent* due in part to a lack of education and awareness, according to the Canadian AIDS Society (CAS). This December 1st, World AIDS Day, CAS is hoping to dial up the conversation.

“We’re not talking about HIV anymore. A lot of people don’t think it’s an issue, but it’s becoming one of the biggest health issues in Canada,” says Gary Lacasse, executive director of The Canadian AIDS Society. “Sexual health is also taboo in a lot of different groups and there’s a lack of knowledge and awareness campaigns to discuss the issue with different circles who are at risk of contracting HIV.” 

One way to address the HIV and AIDS stigma is to educate yourself to gain a better understanding of its misconceptions and gain empathy for people living with the disease.

Ongoing stigmas and misconceptions make it difficult for people living with the illness to feel comfortable sharing their experiences. For Levi Parker-Styles, a Starbucks Canada district manager, overcoming the stigma has been an ongoing struggle since he was diagnosed with HIV in 2018.

“Honestly, [the stigma] still makes me feel uncomfortable. I can’t help but think that the moment people learn about my diagnosis, I am seen as lesser,” Parker-Styles says. “Whether at work or personally, I am constantly aware of my situation and though I feel empowered each time I share my experience, it still feels like I lose a little of myself. The need to share, the need to ‘come out each time,’ it weighs on you, emotionally, more than one might think.”

Despite the risk of judgement he faces, Parker-Styles says he knows that without education, it is hard to correct false public perceptions about the disease. Today, he shares his experience in hopes it will spark important conversations about HIV, lessen the stigma and, hopefully, encourage more people to get tested so they know their status.

“If, in sharing my own journey, I can affect one person – whether that be in terms of support or education, I know I will have made a difference,” he says. 

While roughly 20 per cent of people who are living with HIV don’t know their status, the biggest myth, according to CAS, is that HIV is easily transmittable and easily manageable. Despite effective medications available to help patients manage their symptoms and complications, there is still no cure for HIV and AIDS.

“Because the drugs [to treat the illness] are so advanced right now, there’s the false impression that people aren’t getting sick and that there is a cure,” explains Bridget Hall, Board of Directors Chair at CAS. Hall is referencing the fact that today, those like Parker-Styles who are living with HIV can manage their illness with a once-a-day pill. 

In addition, there are often high costs associated with treatment. As a benefits-eligible partner (employee), Parker-Styles’ medication is covered, which he says “takes the worry out of the experience that so many of my friends still face. Imagine having to pay $2,000 a month, every month, with no support.”

Starbucks supports the fight against AIDS

On Dec. 1, in recognition of Giving Tuesday and World AIDS Day, The Starbucks Foundation will donate $500,000 USD to the Global Fund to help fight AIDS with (RED).

The donation will support the Global Fund’s COVID-19 Response, which aims to strengthen health systems and mitigate the impact of COVID-19 on AIDS programs. These funds will help protect the extraordinary gains the global health community has made in the fight against AIDS and ensure continued access to life-saving treatment and services.

Since Starbucks partnership with (RED) began in 2008, Starbucks has generated more than $16 million in donations to help fight AIDS.

This donation builds on The Starbucks Foundation’s investments to support community response and resilience during COVID-19. The Starbucks Foundation has contributed more than $9 million to a variety of global and local nonprofit partners, including Mercy Corps, the United Nations Foundation and over 400 community-based organizations across Canada and the U.S. in response to COVID-19. 

To learn more about how you can get involved this World AIDS Day, visit The Canadian AIDS Society for links to resources, to find local organizations, and to access information hotlines and support.

*2018 report from the Public Health Agency of Canada

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