A MIXTURE of support, love and remembrance ushered in Brisbane’s first World AIDS Day candlelight vigil in seven years, as the day was marked throughout Australia on Monday.

In Queensland alone, events in Cairns to Townsville and both Sunshine and Gold Coasts joined with Brisbane to commemorate the global day aimed to raise awareness and remember those who have been lost to HIV and AIDS-related illnesses.

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Along with a vigil held in Cairns, Brisbane’s candlelight vigil had almost 200 people in attendance at New Farm Park.

Politicians from both sides were on hand to lend their support for the vigil and the day as a whole, emphasising the need to continue marking World AIDS Day as an important recognition of those who have passed and who still live with HIV.

“World AIDS DAY should be recognised in Queensland and I understand that it hasn’t had any recognition on the scale of a candlelight vigil for numerous years,” Queensland Opposition Leader Annastacia Palaszczuk told the Star Observer.

“It’s great to see that this year has seen that recognition come back to Brisbane. We need to raise the awareness of HIV/AIDS within the community as it continues to touch a lot of families and partners.

“Many more lives are impacted by this disease and we need to make sure that the community government is there to support everyone affected.”

Brisbane Central state Coalition MP Robert Cavallucci said that the day — and the wearing of a red ribbon — was a vital and helpful means by which HIV and AIDS stigma and discrimination could be overcome.

“This World AIDS Day, talk about it, with your friends, colleagues and family. Talk about how so much more needs to be done, despite the advances and the achievements,” he told the Star Observer.

“Talk about what it means for someone to live with stigma, prejudice and discrimination. Talk about the red ribbon cause, don’t just wear it.”

Brisbane Pride Festival president Peter Black welcomed the large crowd to the vigil.

“This is a really important day for all of us. Each year we see hundreds of people throughout this country die from HIV and AIDS-related causes,” Black said.

“Since HIV/AIDS was first discovered many years ago some 35 million people around the world have lost their lives to the disease and so it is so valuable that we have moments like this to reflect and to remember those who have lost their lives too soon as a result of HIV/AIDS.”

Several HIV-positive speakers took to the microphone to share their stories of living with HIV and their experiences of tackling discrimination, fear and hatred.

The occasion was also an opportunity for the Queensland AIDS Council (QuAC) to deliver some sobering news to the large crowd.

Executive director Michael Scott said that statistics from mid-November had indicated a 20 per cent increase in new notifications of HIV, a result he described as “alarming”.

“So far in Queensland this year we have a total of 204 new notifications of HIV. At this time last year there were only 165. So that is a significant increase and 20 per cent in just one year,” he said.

“So far this year we’ve already passed the total notifications from last year which was 181.”

Scott took aim at critics of QuAC that used increasing statistics in 2012 as a reason to defund the organisation.

“Back in 2012 QuAC was defunded and criticised for ‘losing its way’,” he said.

“This was based on HIV numbers and we were criticised because numbers were increasing. So given the increase now of 20 per cent, I ask everyone of you who lost their way in 2014?”

Scott was also critical of what he saw was an eroding partnership approach in Queensland between HIV and AIDS bodies along with recent ad campaigns aimed at the entire population, saying that attention needs to be directed back to at-risk communities.

“The partnership approach that Australia has been so famous for has been some somewhat shattered in Queensland,” he said.

“It really is a concerning that organisations are very focused on funding and retaining their funding, and are very reluctant to do the advocacy work that is so important in our community.”

The vigil was organised by QuAC’s Volunteer of the Year Gary Williams.

“I won the award… and I just didn’t want to take that framed certificate home and put it on the sideboard to look at it everyday,” he said.

“I wanted to do something with it and what I did was use that award as a platform to get this event is back on the calendar.”

He said his aim was to take the event to King George Square next year.

(Main photo: David Alexander; Star Observer)

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