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By Gerry Lavallee, CUPE Airline Division, Air Canada Local 4092

It’s very late. Wonderful memories of my experiences at the XVI International AIDS conference start to fill my mind in waves of vivid images, bright colours, and sounds.

I close my eyes. I see myself slowly wandering the expansive corridors of Toronto’s Convention Centre marvelling at the diversity of delegates from no less than 132 countries.

There’s something about their faces. It fills my heart with hope, yet I can’t for the life of me figure out what it is. Sitting on my balcony in the wee hours of the morning, I have an advantage. I have the benefit of the memory of their faces, snapshots in my minds eye. I have time to study them. For an hour, I try to recall the features as best I can. Finally, I just about fall off my chair when I figure out what it is about those faces that has mesmerized me so.

It’s the lines! I see the lines etched upon their faces by never-ending battle cries in the war against AIDS. I see the lines shaped by the many smiles given generously to those who need them the most. And I see the lines upon their faces as indelible evidence of expressions of compassion, love, and selflessness.

These 30,000 plus souls are here in Toronto, proudly bearing these lines with more courage and defiance than the most embattled warriors. They’re teachers, health care workers, doctors, activists, scientists, lawyers, writers, artists, people living with HIV-AIDS, mothers, daughters, sisters, brothers, and fathers. You name it. I stand before them humbled. I aspire to carry the lines that are etched upon my own face with half as much dignity. I’m not sure what I can do to help yet. But I’m determined to learn all that I can during the course of the week.

Today for instance, I learned from UNAIDS, the United Nations AIDS organization, that by the time my city wakes up each morning, another 8,000 people around the world will have died of AIDS - 800 of them in sub-Saharan Africa alone.

I’m confused! How is it that this many people die of AIDS every day but this is the first time I hear these numbers? How did I miss this? Could it be that these facts only come out every two years when the world’s media outlets swoop down onto another International AIDS Conference?

I don’t know if I have the answers to any of these questions but I will say this: With knowledge comes the responsibility of making sure that the message gets passed along. So here it is again with a few more details.

Eight thousand people die every day of AIDS all over the world and they don’t have to! They die because for the most part, human rights violations of vulnerable people continue to go unchecked. These people are denied access to services for preventing HIV infection and to life saving drugs that will keep them alive.

You, too, now hold the responsibility of sharing this knowledge. Pass it on. Let’s do something about it.