Know your status: AIDS Committee of Ottawa on National HIV Testing Day

Lauren Roulston • Jul 3, 2024

The AIDS Committee of Ottawa sets up in ByWard Market on National HIV Testing Day, Jun. 25, 2024 (Parujee Akarasewi/CHUO).



In the heart of ByWard Market the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) set up a table and tent to educate the community on National HIV Testing Day, Jun. 25.

In collaboration, CHUO set up a tent right next to them with DJ Gravity on the music. The main question of the day: do you know your HIV status?

To help the community learn about HIV/AIDS, the committee put out pamphlets, buttons, and even prizes to be won by spinning their HIV trivia wheel.

The ACO set up an open atmosphere, free of judgement so they could inform the community on how to know their status, and why it’s important that they do.

“It’s very important to know your own HIV status so that first, you can seek treatment as soon as possible and also you can protect the people that you love,” says Cory Wong, manager of the ACO’s support services team. “It’s good for anyone.”

This group offers support to folks living with HIV as well as those closely affected, like family members and friends.

(Mary Sabourin/CHUO)


They’ve taken research and consideration to represent different populations while also offering practical support, like a weekly food bank.

A big mission for the ACO is taking down the stigma on HIV/AIDS and providing a safe support network.

“I think that’s the most important thing for people living with HIV,” says Wong. “To know that there are other people with HIV, they are not alone, and hopefully the connection they make will help them deal with HIV stigma and break isolation.”

He adds that many people say the AIDS Committee of Ottawa is the only place they can speak openly about living with HIV.

A lot of misconceptions have lingered since the AIDS epidemic in the 80s. This era inspired many stigmas, like that only certain groups of people can get HIV.

It was even called ‘The Gay Disease’ because queer men were one of the primary groups affected.

In 1982, The New York Times published an article titled, ‘New Homosexual Disorder Worries Health Officials,’ just one example of the misconception that AIDS only affects men who have sex with men.

We know from the ACO’s HIV trivia wheel and multiple reports that in fact, HIV now infects more straight people than people in the queer community.

Wong notes that unfortunately, a lot of mainstream conversations on AIDS are wrapped in fearful headlines that reinforce stigmas, when HIV is actually quite easily prevented.

PrEP, or pre-exposure prophylaxis, is one of the most common forms of HIV prevention. When taken as prescribed this medicine reduces the risk of getting HIV from sex by about 99 per cent.

And for those who are HIV+, there are many treatments available by either injections or oral medications.

So people are living normal lives with HIV, as the ACO’s Chris Tooriram mentioned to the crowd in ByWard Market.

Among the ACO’s resources, they offer free self-testing kits to learn your status and the steps you can take for your wellbeing, no matter the results.

Self-testing kits were available at the ACO’s HIV Testing Day tent (Mary Sabourin/CHUO)

“You can get the results right away, and we’re there to support and connect people with resources and support regardless of their HIV status,” says Wong.

Marlise is the women’s community developer at the ACO, she also points to the quick and easy methods of HIV testing these days.

“It’s really pretty easy, so it’s really up to you,” she says. “You can do it at home, you have some self-testing kits, if you want you can have the privacy of your room, you can have it from us at ACO at 19 Main St.”

At their office, the ACO hosts a clinic on Monday evenings for this testing. “So if you want to get tested… you just pop in and get tested anonymously, there’s no stigma,” Marlise adds.

She emphasizes the significance of knowing your HIV status, too.

“The knowledge is powerful, so when you know your status you can manage your condition as quick as possible, so the quicker the better,” she says.

“You must know that HIV is not a death sentence anymore, because it’s manageable and you can live as long as anybody else,” she adds.

Once you’re being treated for HIV, the virus can become undetectable, which means you can’t transmit it sexually. Marlise highlights this as a form of protecting your partner, too.

“So you just live like anybody else is, so get tested and be empowered.”