Flin Flon’s favourite explorer statue has a new look this week for a good cause.
The Flinty statue has been lit up in red for several nights in the run-up to World AIDS Day, which takes place Dec. 1 - the new colour is a collaborative effort from the Play it Safer Network and the City of Flin Flon to bring awareness to HIV/AIDS in the north.
“It’s important that we bring awareness to World AIDS Day because we want to honor those living in the north with HIV/AIDS. We want to bring awareness to the importance of getting tested and we want to dispel the myth that HIV/AIDS will never happen to us in the north,” said Christa McIntyre, co-chair of the Play it Safer Network.
Over 1,400 Manitobans have HIV or AIDS, according to the Nine Circle Community Health Centre. The province has the second-highest proportion of all Canadian provinces of people testing positive for HIV/AIDS each year, behind only Saskatchewan.
According to provincial health statistics, 12 people in the Northern Health Region tested positive for either HIV or AIDS in 2019. Screening and testing for the diseases dropped dramatically from 2018 to 2019, going from 2,368 tests in the NHR in 2018 to 942 in 2019. Testing also took a downturn provincewide during the COVID-19 pandemic, with around 10,000 fewer tests done last year according to Manitoba Health, even though the rate of new cases was around the same. COVID-19 spread is a likely culprit for the decrease, while other factors include stigma of being tested or having the disease, lack of knowledge of HIV/AIDS and risks associated with it and difficulties in access to testing in some areas.
“Getting tested is key. Early diagnosis of HIV prevents HIV from spreading through our communities and starting treatment early means you can live a healthy life,” said McIntyre.
“The only way to know your HIV status for sure is to get tested. It is impossible to tell from a person’s appearance whether they have HIV infection and many HIV positive individuals feel no symptoms in the early stages of HIV.”