As the Aboriginal Coordinator for the blood borne pathogens integration team working on the STOP HIV project, it’s my belief that if HIV prevention and treatment were better understood, the stigma and discrimination that is attached to HIV would no longer exist.
So how can we, at Northern Health, assist individuals and communities to create support networks and safe spaces for individuals to be free from discrimination? I believe the IMAGINE Grants are one way that we can reduce the barriers and improve the health and well-being of all Aboriginal people. These grants will assist your communities and organizations to develop youth and Elder collaboration, support communities to develop readiness plans to address HIV prevention, increase testing, raise awareness and engage the youth.
Recently, I visited Vancouver Native Health Society (VNHS), a wonderful organization that works to improve and promote the physical, mental, emotional and spiritual health of individuals. They focus on the Aboriginal community residing in Greater Vancouver, a community where I met many amazing people. Throughout my visit, I was surprised to discover how many of those individuals were from the Northern Health region. While talking with the VNHS clients, I asked each one of them how they ended up in Vancouver. I received a variety of reasons and the responses really made me wonder how we could support those individuals so far from home. Each one expressed various types of fear, stigma and discrimination as they faced being HIV+.
There were some who were too afraid to even tell their family/community that they had the virus. They believed they would be judged and they couldn’t face the possibility of being rejected. Yet others felt they were immediately shunned or ostracized because HIV is not talked about in their communities and therefore, there isn’t much understanding about the disease. Finally, there were some clients who said that the lack of health care services in their region made their decision to leave all that much easier as one who is dealing with HIV must have access to care.
I realized that, overall, there are many HIV+ people who believed they didn’t have the proper support networks, and felt they had no other option but to leave their homes and communities.
I think the beauty of the IMAGINE grants is that they are community-led and community-driven. Each community has the knowledge about what will work for them and these grants will allow for region-specific, community-specific approaches. I look forward to partnering with you as we all work to prevent HIV transmission in your community.
Visit the NH website for more info about the IMAGINE grants.
About Patricia Howard
Patricia is the Aboriginal Coordinator for the blood borne pathogens integration team with Northern Health, working to STOP the spread of HIV/AIDS. She is Cree/Metis and, although she was born in Saskatchewan, she has spent the majority of her life in Prince George on Lheidli T’enneh territory, and feels honoured to be part of this community. She is passionate and committed to the health and well-being of all Aboriginal people. She loves her job as it provides her with an opportunity to create a space for cultural excellence for the Aboriginal population as she works to improve the overall health and well-being.