Published by CBC News | November 2, 2015
There was a time when contracting HIV-AIDS in Africa was a death sentence.
The countries of Sub-Saharan Africa, like Malawi, have some of the highest HIV-AIDS rates in the world.
That’s starting to change, thanks in part to the work of organizations like Dignitas International. About 10 per cent of the population in Malawi is living with HIV or AIDS. That is shockingly high, but the good news is that only 10 years ago, that number stood at about 18 per cent.
The non-profit is holding a gala on Tuesday to celebrate its successes and raise funds. It will feature, among other things, a screening of the new James Bond movie, Spectre.
In addition to Bond, a familiar face at the gala will be that of Leslie Feist, the Toronto singer famous for her albums 2004’s Let It Die, 2007’s The Reminder and her seminal work with indie rock collective Broken Social Scene.
Feist is not just a famous face at the fundraising gala, though. She traveled to Malawi to help the organization with their education, outreach and health-care efforts.
She toured the health clinic in a town called Tisungane. There she spent time with HIV-positive teens, mothers and others using the charity’s services.
“I went there thinking that I’d feel just guilt. First world, simple guilt, showing up at something so massive. And instead I ended up feeling really grateful and inspired and blown away by the fortitude, intelligence and humour in the people I saw working there together,” said Feist during an interview with Matt Galloway on Tuesday morning.
Michael Schull, a medical researcher and emergency department physician at Sunnybrook and the chair of Dignitas International, got involved with the charity in the early 2000s. He said at that time, for the first time, price was no longer a barrier to life-saving medication in much of the world. But the results were still not there.
“It was unconscionable that the vast majority of people suffering from HIV had no access to life-saving treatment that has become routine and affordable in other parts of the world,” he said.
“We started a clinic where people could come discreetly.”
He said now access to treatment and healthcare systems is getting better. He estimates more that 232,000 people are treated with anti-virals through Dignitas International.
“They now have a chance at life instead of a death sentence,” he said.