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HIV stigma still an issue in Toronto

A three-year study found a lack of information a major source of stigma in ethno-racial communities

Henry Luyombya, a community activist in Toronto, has personally experienced the stigma associated with HIV-AIDS.

Liz Beddall/ Metro

Henry Luyombya, a community activist in Toronto, has personally experienced the stigma associated with HIV-AIDS.

Ignorance is to blame for ongoing stigma around HIV-AIDS in Toronto’s racialized communities, a new report has shown.

For the past three years, the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment has studied the perception of HIV-AIDS among Toronto’s Asian, Black and Latino communities.

For many in those groups, HIV-AIDS is seen as “an invisible” problem, said Henry Luyombya, a community activist and co-ordinator of the study.

“There are no visible statistics, there are no HIV champions, no opinion leaders to talk about it,” he said, adding the lack of knowledge undermines prevention, testing, treatment and care.

“People sort of thought HIV is in Africa, in the Caribbeans. So, that invisibility creates a circle of revolving stigma stemming from the lack of a supportive environment.”

Luyombya has experienced the effects of that stigma first-hand.

He immigrated to Toronto from Uganda 10 years ago, after being diagnosed with HIV. He said people stigmatized him because of his personal experiences and his work as an advocate for marginalized populations – from drug users and homeless people to immigrants and LGBT members.

“Some people even still think HIV is a gay disease. There’s a deep-rooted homophobia,” he said.

Luyombya said research like that being done by the Committee for Accessible AIDS Treatment can help change people’s views about the disease and create a safer environment for everyone living in the city.

Study participants – drawn from faith-based organizations, social justice sectors and people living with HIV – are expected to help educate and engage residents about HIV prevention.

“We want these community leaders will be agents of change where they live,” Luyombya said.

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