Healthy Living in the North

Youth urged to use common sense and practise safe sex

Coasters with HIV awareness messages

Anyone can become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections. Know your status, take precautions, and get the information you need before having sexual relations.

Anyone can become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including young people. That’s why it’s so important to take precautions before having sex, advises Shannon Froehlich, manager of support services at Positive Living North (PLN) in Prince George.

Froehlich said there are many tips young people can follow if they’re considering having sexual relations, which includes both oral sex and intercourse (vaginal and anal).

“Abstinence is the safest approach. But if that’s not an option, young people should use a condom and lubrication every time they have sex,” said Froehlich. “And young people seem to consider oral sex to be safe sex — but they should be advised that it’s not.”

Just as important, she said, is having a conversation with your partner before having sex. “And don’t drink or do drugs beforehand to prevent careless actions,” said Froehlich.

Young people in northern B.C. are encouraged to visit their local health unit if they have questions about sex or are considering having sexual intercourse. Youth who want to be tested for STIs can visit their family doctor, or they can visit the local Opt clinic, which offers sexual health services including STI testing, birth control counselling, and low cost contraceptives and supplies.

Froehlich said PLN staff can supply youths with condoms and have conversations with them about sex — which will be kept anonymous.

“We can also share information about different STIs, and give them brochures that they can take to their partner to have a discussion about sex,” she said.

PLN, a not-for-profit HIV/AIDS/HCV organization, is a Northern Health community partner, and was a key participant in Northern Health’s award-winning STOP HIV/AIDS education and awareness project. PLN can be reached at three locations in northern B.C.: Prince George at 250-562-1172; Smithers at 250-877-0042; and Dawson Creek at 250-782-5202.

Visit hiv101.ca for more information and to learn about online youth educational options.

More information:

This article was first published in A Healthier You, a joint publication of Northern Health and the Prince George Citizen.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications officer at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects, including the STOP HIV/AIDS program and integrated health services. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes. She lives with her husband in Prince George.

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Attention all donors! The 2013 Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life needs your help!

Dr. Abu Hamour

Dr. Abu Hamour, this year’s Scotiabank AIDS Walk Champion.

I’ll be blunt: the organizers for Saturday’s annual Scotiabank AIDS Walk for Life in Prince George are in dire straits. Although almost $19,000 were raised in 2012 for this signature fundraising event, donations this year are nowhere near that as tomorrow’s walk approaches.

Positive Living North (PLN), one of Northern Health’s community partners, is hosting the Prince George walk this Saturday, as well as walks in Smithers, Moricetown and Hazelton through next week. Vanessa West, PLN’s executive director in Prince George, says all of the funds raised through the AIDS Walk events stay in the host communities and go directly to the services and programs to support Canadians living with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

So West has a message for you: PLN is asking northerners to support their annual AIDS walk events or the programs and services they offer to some of our most vulnerable citizens could be at risk.

Her plea comes as Northern Health is reporting an increase in the number of HIV tests being conducted throughout the region in 2012. Not only that, Dr. Abu Hamour, Infectious Diseases Specialist in northern BC — and the 2013 AIDS Walk Champion — reports that 88 per cent of the 233 HIV-positive patients in his care are on HIV medications.

What does this mean? Simply that while Northern Health and its community partners have made great progress in our collective efforts to bring awareness about HIV and AIDS to northern BC, and encourage northerners to get tested and treated early for HIV, there is still much work to be done to ensure that progress continues.

Don’t forget that at least 25 per cent of people with HIV don’t even know they have it. And although there’s no cure for HIV, it’s now considered a chronic disease that can be managed with antiretroviral medications. But for persons living with HIV/AIDS, life can be a challenge. And the support they receive from AIDS service organizations like PLN can be invaluable.

That’s where the rest of us come in. We need to remember that HIV does not discriminate and can affect anyone — all ages, all genders, all sexual preferences.

So if you can’t make it to this weekend’s Prince George AIDS Walk, you can opt to donate online or download a pledge form by visiting www.hiv101.ca. Or you can check out the times and locations of the AIDS Walk events listed below. Choose the one that’s closest to you and help fundraise for this most worthy cause.

Help us spread the word about HIV — not the disease:

  • Prince George, Saturday, September 14 • Masich Place Stadium • Registration: 11:30a.m. • Opening Ceremonies/Walk: 12p.m.
  • Moricetown, Wednesday, September 18 • Moricetown Multiplex • Registration: 11:30a.m. • Walk: 12p.m.
  • Smithers, Thursday, September 19 • Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre • Registration: 11:30a.m. • Walk: 1p.m.
  • Hazelton, Friday, September 20 • Hagwilget Bridge Pullout • Registration: 11:30a.m.• Walk begins: 12p.m.

Also, view highlights from Monday’s news conference promoting the 2013 AIDS Walk for Life on CKPG TV.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications officer at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects, including the STOP HIV/AIDS program and integrated health services. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes. She lives with her husband in Prince George.

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Combating the fear, shock and stigma around HIV/AIDS

Be a warrior against HIV

Playing cards developed by the STOP HIV/AIDS program for the hiv101.ca campaign.

I first learned about AIDS when I worked as a newspaper reporter in Vancouver in the mid-1980s. AIDS Vancouver, one of the first AIDS support organizations in Canada, was in its infancy, and little was known about this mystery disease other than it only seemed to affect gay men who were dying of a strange form of pneumonia in various North American cities.

When it became known that AIDS was actually a global epidemic that also affected heterosexual men and women, people everywhere reacted with fear, shock and stigma.

Fast forward to October 2011, when I was hired by Northern Health to work as a communications officer on the provincially-funded STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. Things haven’t changed much since the 1980s. Mention HIV/AIDS now and many people still react with fear, shock and stigma — mainly because they’re woefully uneducated on all things related to HIV/AIDS.

What has changed is that HIV is now considered a manageable chronic disease — it’s no longer an automatic death sentence. That’s where Northern Health’s STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project comes in. The project has been operating since 2010 and on May 29, 2012, we launched the education/awareness component of the project. As communications lead, I’ve had the opportunity to work with talented consultants, dedicated community partners and Northern Health staff on this education/awareness campaign. We’re giving northerners the facts about HIV. We’re telling them that HIV affects everyone: all genders, all ages, all races. We’re encouraging people to take an HIV test and, if necessary, seek treatment to control the disease which will allow them to lead longer, healthier lives.

Our aggressive campaign, running in communities across northern B.C., features newspaper, radio, TV and billboard ads; a new website, hiv101.ca; and catchy drink coasters, posters and other promo items all encouraging people to take an HIV test. We also created the very powerful video posted below.

It’s been a real team effort — and a very emotional one. It’s been heartbreaking to hear people living with HIV describe how they were diagnosed with the virus and, in some cases, shunned by their families and friends.

On the flip side, it’s been truly inspiring to work with people who’ve bravely allowed their photos and words to be used in our very public campaign. Their courage has enabled us to begin breaking down barriers about HIV in the north, and getting people talking about how to combat its spread. As the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network points out, “Reducing the stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS is key to both stopping the spread of the epidemic and improving the quality of life of people living with the disease.”

I’m not sure how many people we’ll actually reach with our STOP HIV/AIDS campaign. Some people say that our year-long education/awareness campaign will reach a saturation point, with our HIV/AIDS messages eventually ignored. I respond that behaviour change can take years to occur. The fact that we’re still fighting stigma about HIV more than 25 years after AIDS first appeared tells me that we still have much work to do. But I’m optimistic that if we and others persist with our education efforts that, perhaps one day, the stigma around HIV can be eliminated — along with the disease itself. For more information, visit hiv101.ca.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications officer at Northern Health where she works on a number of projects, including the STOP HIV/AIDS program and integrated health services. Prior to joining Northern Health, Joanne worked in the journalism and communications fields in the lower mainland, Whitehorse and Ottawa. She keeps active by taking Zumba and spinning classes. She lives with her husband in Prince George.

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