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Students hold bike-a-thon to fight AIDS/HIV in Malawi

U of T Scarborough students are organizing a bike-a-thon fundraiser on Monday, Feb. 5 to support the campus chapter of Dignitas International, a medical-humanitarian organization that aims to help HIV/AIDS-infected communities.  

The students and the campus Dignitas Youth chapter are again helping Scott Simpson -- a Dignitas International Fundraising Officer and tri-athlete with HIV/AIDS -- by aiming to finish cycling the race that he was unable to complete.

Dignitas Youth on campus is holding the second-annual Race for Dignity, a 12-hour bike-a-thon in which participants cycle on stationary gym bikes to raise both awareness of HIV/AIDS and funds for Dignitas International's efforts against the disease in Malawi.

The race took place in January at six other campuses, including U of T’s St. George campus, and the London School of Economics. The race originates from Scott Simpson's efforts to cycle across Africa in support of Dignitas International. His premature collapse prevented him from finishing the race.

"With some cohesion and synergy, the U of T Scarborough community can help," said student Fran Kohi, president of Dignitas Youth on campus. The slogan for Dignitas Youth is “Talk. Think. Act.”

With chapters in schools across Canada, Dignitas Youth reaches out to youth on behalf of Dignitas International, to encourage awareness of, and action against HIV/AIDS.

According to Kohi, there are 4.9 million new HIV/AIDS infections yearly, and up to 90% of those infected remain unable to access adequate treatment. Community-based care programs, used by Dignitas International, are crucial to tackling the pandemic on the local level.

Kohi believes that every bit counts in helping to relieve the current HIV/AIDS situation that "is not hopeless," she said.

With nearly 300 people participating in Monday’s race, the event aims to raise $5,000 from donations and sales. Proceeds will contribute to Dignitas International's work in Malawi.

First-time participant Alia Saklawy explained she is supporting Dignitas Youth at U of T Scarborough because she understands the severity of the HIV/AIDS issue when "there is not enough being done to address AIDS," she said.

Having grown up in West Africa, Saklawy has witnessed firsthand the main approach by many in Africa to those with HIV/AIDS.

"No one talks about AIDS…people with AIDS are shunned, and the burden to cope with the disease falls on the person (infected)," said Saklawy. "AIDS ravages."

Saklawy also supports the event also because she agrees with Dignitas International's approach to addressing HIV/AIDS by working with communities, and working from the bottom up.

"Dignitas Youth at UTSC make it clear that they are (first) a medium for raising AIDS-awareness among youth," she said.

Dignitas International is a Toronto-based medical-humanitarian organization that aims to help HIV/AIDS-infected communities access treatment for, and preventative methods against HIV/AIDS through community-based care programs. Their model of community-based care in Malawi includes a hospital that provides HIV testing and counselling, access to antiretroviral (ARV) drugs, medical care, and training of the community's members about dealing with, and preventing, HIV/AIDS. Proceeds from R4D also go towards purchasing vehicles that help bring these services to people in need of them in remote communities.

The race will take place at U of T Scarborough on Monday, Feb. 5, from 10 a.m. to 10 p.m. at the Meeting Place.

For more information on Dignitas International, visit http://www.dignitasinternational.org.

Denise Tse is a second-year arts student at U of T Scarborough.




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