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If I could write a rap song about HIV [Toronto Star]

Toronto Star, December 1, 2010

By Dr. Jane Philpott

Most of my friends and colleagues know about my crush on K’naan. But it’s not the dreamy eyes and jet-black curls that melt my heart. What I adore are the lyrics of a genius that can at once educate me, inspire me and move me to tears. The story-songs make me imagine K’naan’s mama who taught him about giving; his cousin who missed the flight out of Somalia to safety; and the gorgeous young Fatima who was mysteriously snatched from K’naan’s life.

So with today being World AIDS Day, I wish I could write a rap song about HIV in the world. Maybe a rap song would help me tell stories that seem so far from the lives of Canadians. Through song, I might describe the young man that my son knows in northern Uganda. I could explain how the man was close to committing suicide when he learned he had HIV and how a $1.80 clinic administration fee was the barrier that almost kept him from accessing life-saving antiretroviral medication.

In rap lyrics, maybe I could recount the tale of the beautiful woman I know who just gave birth by emergency Caesarean section. Soon after the delivery, she found out that the painful rape which led to this new life had furthermore infected mother and perhaps baby with the life-threatening HIV virus. Through song I could ask why a woman in this situation in Canada will most certainly be able to access treatment while countless such women in sub-Saharan Africa do not have equitable access to diagnosis or care.

I wish I could write a song that would help Canadians to share the heartache of millions who are directly affected by HIV. Perhaps the music would stir our own memories of love and loss thereby building a bridge of solidarity between near and far.

But I wonder if my song would be enough to rouse people to action. K’naan’s lyrics and rhythms seem to brilliantly tell stories of terror and tragedy to the tune of a lively pop beat. The result is that somehow there is a message of hope for a better future.

So my song would have to tell about how thousands of Canadians are responding to the HIV pandemic and becoming part of the solution. These Canadians mark World AIDS Day every year by giving one day’s pay to organizations like the Stephen Lewis Foundation or Dignitas International. Such an act of pragmatic solidarity provides essential support for people affected by HIV. The Give a Day movement galvanizes Canadian communities to mobilize resources for communities far from them, moving us closer to a world without AIDS.

So how could my rap song incite more Canadians to give a day’s pay on World AIDS Day? Maybe it comes back to K’naan. I’ve heard him sing that “It ain’t everyone who gets to live” and “It ain’t every day that you get to give”. If I could write a rap song about HIV, I hope it would inspire Canadians to realize that we get in order to give.

Dr. Jane Philpott is founder of Give a Day to World AIDS and an assistant professor in the department of family and community medicine at the University of Toronto.

Dignitas InternationalIf I could write a rap song about HIV [Toronto Star]