Support for this year’s AIDS Walk, a fundraising event hosted by Prairie Harm Reduction, OUTSaskatoon and Saskatoon Sexual Health, has been phenomenal, with over a record-breaking $90,000 raised.
The fundraising goal, initially set at $45,000, was quickly exceeded after the campaign began in early August, with more than 160 participants registered to fundraise for the walk, which took place on Sept. 26 in Victoria Park.
“We couldn’t be more thrilled with how the fundraiser is going,” says Krystal Nieckar, Executive Director of OUTSaskatoon, a non-profit community centre that supports LGBTQ2S+ people.
“The support that we have received is so motivating and fuels us to continue our good work.” Nieckar said.
“I’m a believer in supporting good work, and I feel like our community is the same.”
The proceeds from AIDS Walk will go toward providing support services for people living with and impacted by HIV/AIDS in Saskatoon and surrounding areas.
“This means initiatives like support outreach services for folks who are involved in sex work, as well as ensuring people have access to testing and support services,” Nieckar said.
“Prairie Harm Reduction, OUTSaskatoon and Saskatoon Sexual Health are trusted in the community to provide safe, judgment-free care that hopefully meets people where they are at and gets them connected to care in a respectful and compassionate way.”
This is the 20th year that Prairie Harm Reduction, a community-based organization that offers harm reduction services, has partnered with OUTSaskatoon to organize the walk.
However, this is only the first year in which Saskatoon Sexual Health, a clinic offering sexual and reproductive health services, has been involved with the fundraiser.
“[It] made perfect sense as our organizations already work so closely together,” Nieckar said of the partnership.
“Saskatoon Sexual Health is such a strong community-based organization, and they work tirelessly to support folks affected by HIV/AIDS.”
And that work is crucial, as Saskatchewan has the highest HIV infection rate in the country. It is also the only province where injection drug use, and not sex, is the leading cause of new HIV infections.
Saskatoon Sexual Health provided over 1,600 HIV tests in 2020 and remains committed to improving access to testing and preventative healthcare measures for those at risk — two very important services considering that one in five HIV-positive Canadians don’t know their status.
Prairie Harm Reduction also serves people at risk and affected by HIV through services such as emergency medical coverage, educational programs and advocacy.
Additionally, the organization operates the province’s first safe consumption site, located in Saskatoon’s Pleasant Hill neighbourhood.
The site aims to prevent overdoses and adverse medical effects associated with drug use, as well as reduce the spread of HIV and other blood-borne infections by providing access to sterile needles and syringes.
Despite the need for these services, the provincial government has decided not to invest in the safe consumption site, which is currently funded exclusively through fundraisers, such as the Saskatoon AIDS Walk.
This year, Prairie Harm Reduction was denied funding for the second year in a row after requesting less than one per cent of the government’s record $458 million investment towards mental health and addictions services.
“We hope that the government acknowledges that the safe consumption site is saving lives,” Nieckar said in response to the overwhelming support of community members during this year’s AIDS Walk.
“It’s impossible to put a number or value on people’s lives, but it’s essential for the government to recognize that the province should be funding this work.”