A red-ribbon flag was raised today, Nov. 24, to honour those living with HIV and AIDS and those lives that have been lost. The flag raising was a public ceremony at Province House, commencing HIV/AIDS Awareness Week in Nova Scotia. “In order to move forward with prevention and treatment, it’s important we increase public awareness and break down barriers like social stigma,” said Cole Harbour-Eastern Passage MLA Joyce Treen, on behalf of Health and Wellness Minister Leo Glavine. “HIV-related stigma can affect access and a person’s willingness to seek testing and treatment.” HIV/AIDS Awareness week ends on Dec. 1, which is international World AIDS Day and the first day of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week in Canada. The global campaign theme for World AIDS Day is Hands Up for #HIVPREVENTION. It explores different aspects of HIV prevention, such as harm reduction and testing, and how they relate to specific groups of people, key populations, and people living with HIV/AIDS. The Public Health Agency of Canada reported that approximately 21 per cent of the estimated 75,500 Canadians living with HIV do not know they are infected. Early testing and treatment is key to a longer life expectancy for those affected, and helps prevent the spread of new cases. In 2014 there was a review of Nova Scotia’s strategy on HIV/AIDS. The Nova Scotia advisory commission on AIDS has implemented a plan to engage stakeholders to help improve access to services and supports, including HIV screening and harm reduction services. To assist with discussion with stakeholders, the commission developed backgrounders on key issues that highlight the need for coordinated action. “Despite advances in prevention, testing and treatment, more work is needed to increase early screening and diagnosis, and services that reduce the spread of HIV and other sexually-transmitted and blood-borne infections,” said Michelle Proctor-Simms, director of the Nova Scotia advisory commission on AIDS. “We are looking at opportunities to improve access to critical services and supports such as testing and needle exchange.” About 17 people tested positive for HIV in Nova Scotia 2015, and 828 people developed AIDS in Nova Scotia since testing began in 1983. The Nova Scotia advisory commission on AIDS advises government on HIV/AIDS issues and coordinates the implementation of the provincial HIV/AIDS strategy. For a full list of HIV/AIDS Awareness Week and World AIDS Day events across the province, visit www.novascotia.ca/AIDS.