“There is a temptation,” says Eamonn Smythe, National Manager Positive Health for the NZAF, “for Kiwis to think of HIV and AIDS as ‘someone else’s problem, somewhere else.’ But with an estimated 2700 people living with HIV in New Zealand this is very much a domestic issue.
“In 2005 New Zealand experienced the largest ever number of new HIV diagnoses; 183 people learned they had become HIV positive. That’s about one every two days!”
Smythe says the International AIDS Candlelight Memorial has, in the past few years in New Zealand, focussed more on remembering those who had died of AIDS than on the message of HIV prevention.
“Many of those who have died of AIDS-related illness in New Zealand were vigorous campaigners for HIV prevention. I think we dishonour the memory of those people if we don’t use the time when we acknowledge their passing, to also try to prevent others from embarking on the same path. Let’s honour their work by doing our utmost to ensure that this current rise in HIV is turned around.”
The International AIDS Candlellight Memorial is a program of the Global Health Council, and the oldest grassroots AIDS awareness campaign in the world. Occurring the third Sunday of May each year, communities and individuals worldwide, from large cities to rural villages, gather to light candles in commemoration of those affected by the HIV/AIDS pandemic.
It is an opportunity to remember those lost to the disease, to support those currently affected, and to advocate and educate about HIV prevention. Each year, memorials take place in more than 4500 communities in more than 93 countries. In New Zealand memorials are held throughout the country.
Since the beginning of the pandemic, AIDS has claimed more than 28 million lives, with more than 42 million now living with the virus. The numbers are increasing.
In New Zealand Candlelight Memorials were originally run by local communities of HIV-positive people their families and supporters, but over the course of 20 years have evolved into linked events coordinated by the New Zealand AIDS Foundation, but still supported by those same groups and individuals.
Each year, the international organisers choose a theme. In 2006 that theme is “Lighting the Path to a Brighter Future.” In New Zealand, the Foundation has taken that theme of remembrance and added themes of awareness and prevention.
This year’s poster says:
Here in New Zealand people are still contracting HIV, Still dying needlessly of AIDS.
Those who have gone before
Your commitment to stop the Virus
By having safe sex you are
Lighting the Path to a Brighter Future
Kia Marama, Kia mohio.
The additional symbolism of the red AIDS ribbon made from candles (some extinguished) also shows that a renewed commitment is necessary to stop the light going out.
“This candlelight remember those who have gone before, but remember that you have the power to stop it happening to someone else you love or care for,” Smythe says. “Practice safe sex; wear a condom, help stop the transmission of HIV here in New Zealand.”
LOCATIONS, VENUES, TIMES FOR THIS YEAR’S MEMORIAL
AUCKLAND – 6:30pm, St Matthew's in the City
HAMILTON – 7pm, Houchen Retreat House, 83 Houchens Rd
TAURANGA – 7pm, Memorial Park
WELLINGTON – 6:30pm, St Andrew's On The Terrace, 30 The Terrace
CHRISTCHURCH – 7pm, The Great Hall, Arts Centre, cnr Worcester Blvd & Rolleston Ave
DUNEDIN – 7pm, St Pauls
INVERCARGILL – 6pm, Bluff Hill