Healthy Living in the North

The story of HIV is changing

Stickers with HIV awareness messaging

You can live with HIV if you act to know your status and deal with it. Even if you don’t believe you are at risk, find out. Know for sure. Get tested.

Earlier this month, you may remember a news story featuring actor Charlie Sheen, who revealed that he is HIV-positive. With World AIDS Day upon us, Sheen’s revelation is a reminder that that the story of HIV is changing.

It used to be that a lot of heterosexual people thought they got a free pass on HIV because it was seen as something you only had to worry about if you were gay or an intravenous (IV) drug user.

The way people viewed HIV – and the way that too many still view it – is coloured by fear. We all want to be OK so we look for ways to spin our thinking: “If it’s transmitted through a kind of sex I don’t have, then I’m OK. If it’s transmitted through IV drug use, then I’m OK.” This spin, however, feeds into prejudice and discrimination against those believed to be at risk and it gives many of us a false sense of security.

It may be because of these false beliefs that one of the best protections against HIV infection is not used as often as it should be. According to Statistics Canada, in 2009-10, more than three in ten young adult Canadians (15 to 24 years) did not use a condom the last time they had sex.

The truth is HIV is unquestionably transmitted through heterosexual sex. According to the STOP Report published in 2015, in B.C. between 2010 and 2014, heterosexual transmission accounted for 25% of all new HIV cases. In northern B.C., 39% of all new HIV cases were among heterosexual people. Another truth is that while high-risk sex with multiple partners may increase the likelihood of contracting HIV, it only takes being unsafe one time.

There’s another important piece to Charlie’s story, though. In an interview, he said that since he was diagnosed four years ago, he has been consistently taking antiretroviral medications. His doctor verified that he has a suppressed viral load. The current state of HIV treatment has advanced to the point where someone who has achieved suppression and maintains treatment can look forward to living a normal lifespan and is not a risk to transmit HIV to others.

Charlie Sheen’s story shows that you can live with HIV if you act to know your status and deal with it. Even if you don’t believe you are at risk, find out. Know for sure. Get tested.


Editor’s note: This article was co-written by Andrew Burton & Sam Milligan. Learn more about our blog authors.

 

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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Walking for life

Digital painting of man in coffee shop.

To accompany his blog post about HIV and the AIDS Walk for Life, Andrew Burton created this original piece entitled “Café Scene”.

J is sitting quietly in the corner by the front door of the café. There are several people scattered around the room chatting, drinking coffee, eating nachos or oversized muffins. J keeps to himself. J has a cold. He warns me of it when I sit down. “I used to get really scared,” he says, “every time I got sick.” He stirs his coffee and smiles:

I would wonder, is this the one? Is this just a cold or some kind of rare pneumonia? Being HIV positive, you can get vigilant looking for the infection that could take you out. I was diagnosed in 1995. Back then, everybody thought it was a death sentence. I was scared at first, then angry, but it turned out I was one of the lucky ones. I got on medication early, stuck to it and got suppressed. So, it’s all good, right?

Today, at 50, J is part of some positive statistics. An increasing number of people living with HIV are living longer, healthier lives. The BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS estimates that there are 273 people in northern B.C. living with HIV and 123 of them are over 50 years old. About 92 of those are on antiretroviral therapy (ART) medication and 66 are suppressed – that is, the virus is undetectable in their blood.

Back in the café, J looks around the room:

It was hard to stick with the meds at first. The side effects were a problem and it’s tough staying on track when you don’t feel sick or when the side effects are what are making you feel sick. They were harsh in the early days. They’re so much better now.

The key to a long and healthy life for people living with HIV is to be tested and diagnosed early, before their immune system is seriously compromised, then to begin treatment and keep on track with it. Over time, the medications have improved. Current regimens require fewer pills, have fewer side effects, and less toxicity. “I used to wonder how people would react if they knew,” J says,

Back then there was still a lot of stigma … not so much anymore. People ask how I got infected. I don’t mind that so much. It’s none of their business, really, but at least they are up front about asking. What really gets to me are the ones who just make assumptions … usually negatives.

People living with HIV still deal with stigma. People fear the disease and jump to conclusions about people who have it. The truth is everyone is at risk for HIV. Stand up and show your support. Join the AIDS Walk in your community this September – there are walks happening around the province from September 12-20.

In Prince George, where I live, September 16, 2015, is the Scotiabank Positive Living North AIDS Walk for Life at the Prince George Civic Centre. Registration is at 11:30 with the walk going from 12:30 to 2:30 p.m. More information is available from AIDS Walk For Life.

Andrew Burton

About Andrew Burton

Andrew is a Community Integration Systems Navigator for Northern Health’s HIV and Hepatitis C Care team and works to support healthy living practices in communities across northern B.C. Andrew is developing positive activity and diet practices for two reasons: to deal with his own health concerns, and to “walk the talk” of promoting healthy living. Building on his training and experience in creative arts therapy, Andrew founded and runs the Street Spirits Theatre program promoting social responsibility among young people. This work has been recognized nationally and internationally as a leading method of social change.

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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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Taking aim at stigma: Northern Health offers routine HIV testing to everyone

Northern Health staff person stands in front of a display board for HIV project

As a member of the Blood Borne Pathogens team, Sam Milligan provides HIV/HCV education and consultation services to regional Northern Health programs and communities.

Northern Health is taking steps to reduce the stigma around HIV by introducing routine HIV testing for everyone, not just people at risk.

In addition to current risk-based testing guidelines, Northern Health has adapted the 2014 HIV testing guidelines developed by the British Columbia Office of the Provincial Health Officer. These guidelines recommend that everyone between 18 to 70 years of age, in both acute care settings and the community, be offered an HIV test every five years as part of routine health screening.

Preceding the release of the 2014 HIV testing guidelines, the University Hospital of Northern BC initiated the routine offer of HIV screening in December 2013 to all admitted patients who are having blood work taken for another reason while admitted.

“The Public Health Agency of Canada estimated in 2011 that approximately 25 per cent of people living with HIV in Canada are unaware of their HIV-positive status. Evidence also suggests that this 25 per cent account for up to 70 per cent of all new HIV infections,” says Bareilly Sweet, Northern Health’s Regional Coordinator, Blood Borne Pathogens Services.

“We also know that nearly 55 per cent of new HIV diagnoses in Northern Health are diagnosed late, with close to 20 per cent of new diagnoses fitting the criteria for advanced HIV. This means that over half of the people living within Northern Health’s region should already be on HIV treatment at the time of their HIV diagnosis.”

Historically, the reason for an HIV test has fallen into two categories: routine testing for women during pregnancy, and voluntary testing for everyone else. The problem lays in the second option — voluntary testing. For voluntary testing to occur, two conditions have to be met:

  • Health care providers need to ask their clients about risk and risk-related behaviour; however, current research evidence suggests such conversations are very difficult for health care providers to initiate with patients; and
  • Patients need to know they are at risk, recognize that risk, and be willing to disclose risk to their health care provider.

“Unfortunately, the current testing criterion stigmatizes testing. This discourages clinicians from offering an HIV test and discourages patients from seeking and/or accepting an HIV test,” says Sweet. “But that won’t stop us from continuing our work to normalize HIV testing, because routine testing will catch HIV infections in the early stages. And that’s what we need to do, because then we can improve the patient experience on every step of the HIV journey.”

St. John Hospital in Vanderhoof, Stuart Lake Hospital in Fort St. James and the Fraser Lake Health Centre began implementing the routine offer of HIV testing in the spring of 2014. Lakes District Hospital and Health Centre in Burns Lake and GR Baker Hospital in Quesnel are in the preparatory stages to begin offering HIV testing.

This article was originally published in September 2014 in Northern Health’s new internal magazine.

Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.

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World AIDS Day

Portrait of woman wearing shirt that says: "If you care, be HIV aware"

If you care, be HIV aware. For more information about HIV/AIDS and safe sex practices, visit your local health unit or Opt Clinic.

Today is World AIDS Day. For the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, World AIDS Day is a chance to get everyone involved in combating HIV/AIDS through the 90-90-90 strategy. The globally-recognized, made-in-B.C. 90-90-90 goals are:

  • 90% of those infected with HIV are aware of their status.
  • 90% of those diagnosed with HIV receive treatment.
  • 90% of those being treated have undetectable viral loads.

With routine HIV testing gaining momentum across northern B.C., we are on our way to achieving these goals.

World AIDS Day is also a time to think about prevention. Anyone can become infected with HIV or other sexually transmitted infections (STIs), including young people. If you are considering having sexual relations or are sexually active, which includes both oral sex and intercourse (vaginal and anal), World AIDS Day is a good reminder to have a “sex talk.”

Visit your local health unit if you 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.

In addition to combating HIV, Sandra Sasaki, education manager and positive prevention coordinator at Positive Living North, reminds everyone that they can also play a role in combating discrimination this World AIDS Day by participating in local events. Vigils and awareness walks are taking place across northern B.C. this week. Visit Positive Living North to find an event to show your support and to honour those living with HIV and those we have lost to AIDS.

In Prince George, this year’s vigil will be held December 1 at the Fire Pit Cultural Drop-In Centre (1120 Third Avenue) from 4 p.m. to 6 p.m.

For more information about HIV/AIDS, sexually transmitted infections, and practising safe sex, visit the Northern Health HIV/AIDS information source, hiv101.ca.

 

Sam Milligan

About Sam Milligan

Sam is the regional health systems navigator in Northern Health’s blood borne pathogens (BBP) services team. In his role, he provides education and consultation services to communities and programs across the north. Some of his responsibilities include improving community access to HIV & HCV treatment, increase testing for HIV/HCV, and provide current practice education to staff, physicians, and community members. If not at work or talking about work, Sam can be found in the realms of adventures with his two young sons or hanging out with the most gorgeous woman on the planet: his wife.

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Tales from the Man Cave: Sex Happens

Request the HIV test

Visit hiv101.ca for info.

Sex happens, doesn’t it? Unfortunately, so does HIV.

There are many songs celebrating the “inebriated Celt” – “I am a rambler and a gambler a long way from home,” as Bob Dylan says.  Many girls and many episodes of sowing wild oats are espoused as songs, television shows and movies boast of great exploits and adventures.

Celebrating the act of living is great, but what’s wrong with this picture? The problem with this male fantasy is of course well known. Living like this means there is bound to be trouble. But, sex happens to all of us and is a beautiful thing; most adults have had sex even though we may not have the exploits of the mad Celt, off in his ramblings.

That brings me to my point: if I have had sex with someone, who else has that someone had sex with?

Imagine someone with the flu sneezing on their hands and then shaking hands with you. Can you see the virus? Did you touch your face after that – mouth or nose? Thankfully it’s just the flu (which does, however, kill its fair share of people each year, so get your flu shot) but you get my point – viruses cannot be seen!

What if you’ve had too much to drink and meet someone at the bar… they’ve had too much too obviously. Can you see that virus coming?

So why not take the test for HIV? Is that too scary? It might be a hard sell… But it can save lives, maybe yours.

I know when AIDS arrived on the scene it scared the crap out of all of us and seemed like a death sentence. Thus, it became very difficult to deal with and people were very frightened. Now, the recommendations are: if you have had sex, take the test.

I remember coming across a poor chap in Glasgow in 1985 (the year Rock Hudson died of AIDS) who was admitted with AIDS to the hospital I worked at. Back then, there was so much uncertainty around the disease, and admittedly, some fear, due to the ignorance.  Information did not travel via the internet yet and one had to find a book to explain things or some other scientific source.  I’m not sure there were that many, if any, books written on the topic at that time and the press became an information source – there were some good articles and some terrible ones.

Today we know better. We now know that basically anyone can get it so, if you have had sex, get the test.

HIV treatment is very good these days and the scientific medical community has done really well in researching and treating the infection and disease. Since nobody is perfect and we all fall down at times, like the medieval nursery rhyme says, it’s time to get rid of the stigma and moralizing and treat the disease like any other infection.

Get the test.

Visit hiv101.ca for more information.

Jim Coyle

About Jim Coyle

Jim is a tobacco reduction coordinator with the men’s health program, and has a background in psychiatry and care of the elderly. In former times, Jim was director of care at Simon Fraser Lodge and clinical coordinator at the Brain Injury Group. He came to Canada from Glasgow, Scotland 20 years ago and, when not at work, Jim plays in the band Out of Alba and spends time with his family.

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World AIDS Day 2013: A time to reflect and move forward in the fight against HIV

HIV testing

HIV testing will be offered as part of regular hospital care. Our aim is to reduce the spread of HIV throughout northern B.C.

December 1, 2013 marks World AIDS Day, the day that we annually honour those living with HIV, and commemorate those that we’ve lost to AIDS. It’s also a time to salute Northern Health’s community partners who work so diligently to support persons living with HIV/AIDS. They include Positive Living North, Northern BC First Nations HIV/AIDS Coalition, Central Interior Native Health Society, the Cedar Project, and the Northern HIV and Health Education Society. These organizations, and the world at large, have seen great changes since the first reported AIDS cases in the mid-1980s. Admittedly, many people still react with fear, shock and stigma when the topic of HIV/AIDS comes up. But due to great medical advances in HIV treatment, HIV is now considered a manageable chronic disease — not an automatic death sentence.

This year, Northern Health is marking World AIDS Day by introducing a new health care initiative that complements our current strategies to reduce the spread of HIV throughout northern B.C.

Request the HIV testThe initiative — which will see medical staff offer HIV testing as part of regular hospital care — will be introduced at the University Hospital of Northern B.C. beginning Monday, December 2, 2013. This new initiative is being undertaken in efforts to reduce the impact of HIV/AIDS through effective screening and early detection, and to provide timely access to high-quality and safe HIV/AIDS care and treatment.

All patients over age 14 admitted to hospital will be offered an HIV test as part of their admission blood work. As with all medical interventions, every patient has the right to refuse an HIV test. This initiative is expected to be implemented in other Northern Health acute care facilities through 2014.

Why are we introducing routine HIV testing in hospitals? It’s because HIV is an important health issue with 300 to 400 new diagnoses made in BC every year. The number of new infections is not declining — and people are not being diagnosed early enough. Sixty per cent of HIV patients are diagnosed after they should already be on treatment. Evidence also shows that 25 per cent of people living with HIV are not aware of their status.

The routine offering of HIV testing has already proven successful in the Lower Mainland where Vancouver Coastal Health introduced the initiative in October 2011. Up to 94 per cent of Lower Mainland patients who are offered an HIV test as part of routine hospital care say ‘Yes’, because they appreciate knowing that they’re not being singled out to take the test.

Knowing your HIV status is so important for your health care. As health care providers, knowing our patients’ HIV status affects how we treat infections, cancers and even which vaccinations to consider. If you are tested and are diagnosed with HIV, you should begin treatment as early as possible. Why? Because early HIV treatment prolongs and improves people’s lives. People on HIV medications can now have healthy lives, relationships, and children.

hiv101.caThe routine offering of HIV testing initiative is funded by BC’s Ministry of Health. It’s part of the From Hope to Health: Towards an AIDS-free Generation initiative, formerly known as the STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. Many of you are familiar with Northern Health’s STOP HIV/AIDS education and awareness campaign; one of our main goals was and is to normalize HIV testing, by urging everyone who was sexually active or using injection drugs to make the time to get an HIV test.

We’re hoping that our new routine offering of HIV testing initiative will finally take us to that next step, where HIV testing becomes the norm in health care, not the exception. But we need your help. Talk to your friends and family and encourage everyone to take an HIV test. Explain that routine HIV testing of all patients reduces stigma and improves early detection.

As we approach World AIDS Day, help us work towards an AIDS-free generation. Help us spread the word about HIV — not the disease. For more information, visit HIV101.ca.

 

World AIDS Day events in Prince George

World AIDS Day Candlelight Vigil and Dinner:

  • Date: Friday, November 29, 2013
  • Time: 3:00 – 5:00 p.m.
  • Place: The Fire Pit Cultural Drop-In Centre – 1120 – 3rd Ave., Prince George

Blood, Sweat, Tears & Laughter project — Play Creation Workshop, sponsored by Prince George and District Community Arts Council. This workshop is directed towards youth in and around Prince George and will engage them on their thoughts, feelings and stories concerning HIV/AIDS. These shared stories will be used by the local youth theatre group, Street Spirits, to generate a play entitled, Blood, Sweat, Tears & Laughter. The play will be filmed and turned into a resource for agencies who also wish to engage in HIV/AIDS research through theatre.

Workshop:

  • Date: Saturday, November 30, 3013
  • Time: 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.
  • Place: 1148 – 7th Ave., across from Prince George City Hall

Play performance:

  • Date: Sunday, December 1, 2013
  • Time: 7:30 p.m.
  • Place: ArtSpace, 1685 – 3rd Ave (above Books & Company), Prince George, BC
Dr. Susan MacDonald

About Dr. Susan MacDonald

Susan is the Chief Medical Officer for Northern Health and has responsibility for matters of quality and patient safety in medical practice across the north. She has been the medical lead for the STOP HIV/AIDS project since 2010. Susan received her medical degree at McGill University and has certifications in International Health and Tropical Medicine and a Masters in Infectious Diseases. She practiced as a GP Anaesthetist in Quesnel and as a Family Physician at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver for over 20 years. She has also worked and trained in China, Nepal, Kenya and Peru. Susan has taught global health internationally and is the author of several health care publications including a chapter on Infectious Diseases in Asia.

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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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IMAGINE Grants: helping to reduce barriers and create support

STOP HIV/AIDS

The 2012 AIDS Walk for Life.

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.

 

Patricia Howard

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.

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Calling all community partners: Apply for a Northern Health IMAGINE Grant to increase HIV awareness in the north

Local artists with the mural project

These local artists were among the 16 contributors to the mural project located on an outside wall of the Firepit drop-in centre in Prince George. The mural project was funded by an HIV Awareness IMAGINE grant.

On October 25, 2012, I attended the unveiling of a collaborative public mural which featured 16 panels painted by local artists who focused on the topic of HIV awareness. The unveiling took place at the Firepit drop-in centre in downtown Prince George.

Funded by Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grant program, the mural project was unique in that it involved many street people who wouldn’t normally participate in a community project. It gave them the chance to draw upon their individual skills and talents to help create this important artwork.

It was a truly inclusive team effort and certainly defines the meaning and intent of the Imagine Grant program, which provides grants to Northern Health’s community partners who are interested in helping to improve the health and well-being of people living, working, learning and playing in northern B.C.

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Grants are offered in eight different streams. The HIV stream provides grants to initiatives focusing on HIV awareness — an innovative approach to increasing HIV awareness throughout all communities in the north.

In 2012, a total of $200,000 in grant funding will be available to community groups submitting applications for the HIV Prevention IMAGINE Grants.

Northern Health itself has been raising awareness about HIV/AIDS since 2010 through its participation in the STOP HIV/AIDS project. STOP — which stands for Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention — is a four-year provincial pilot project initiative running from 2010 to 2013 in Prince George and Vancouver’s Downtown Eastside.

A key component of Northern Health’s STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project is our educational and awareness campaign. Launched in May 2012, the campaign is designed to spread the message throughout northern B.C. that anyone who is sexually active (ages 13 to 65 — and beyond), uses injection drugs, or is in a high risk group, should be encouraged to take an HIV test.

According to the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, an estimated 25 per cent of people who are HIV-positive are not yet diagnosed. These same people are believed to be responsible for 75 per cent of new HIV infections.

Northern Health’s call to action — encouraging northerners to seek early HIV testing — complements the grassroots work that our preventive public health department has been doing with community partners and others. That work has focused on actively supporting the HIV-positive population, connecting them with existing services, as well as developing new testing initiatives.

We’re working with many community partners on the STOP campaign, including Central Interior Native Health Society, Northern BC First Nations HIV/AIDS Coalition, Positive Living North, and health care providers throughout the north.

Together we’re focusing our campaign on HIV education and awareness, and it features:

  • Advertisements in online and traditional media — running from May 2012 to March 2013 — with messages designed to encourage early HIV testing and treatment.
  • Our new website, www.hiv101.ca, which offers comprehensive information about HIV testing, treatment and support services in northern B.C.
  • Promotional items, which are being distributed throughout the north and are designed to break down barriers about HIV and get people talking openly about HIV/AIDS.

Our campaign is reaching many people, but we can do so much more with your help. If you or your community organization would like to help us increase HIV awareness, work to eliminate the stigma around HIV/AIDS, and help reduce the spread of HIV throughout the north, apply for an HIV IMAGINE Grant today.

For information on how to submit a grant application, visit our IMAGINE grants website.

Bareilly Sweet

About Bareilly Sweet

For the past 17 years, Bareilly has worked in various programs within Northern Health and is currently the Regional Coordinator for Blood Borne Pathogen Services, overseeing the STOP HIV/AIDS pilot project. Her greatest passion is to advocate for those who are challenged daily with the stigma attached to their illness, such as HIV/hepatitis C or mental health and addictions. After working as a millworker for 14 years, she began her lifelong dream of becoming a nurse, graduating from the College of New Caledonia as a registered nurse in 1994, and then completing her Bachelor of Science in Nursing (BScN) at the University of Northern BC in 2004. Born and raised in Prince George, she is an avid outdoorswoman who is loves to hunt and fish. She is also an active community member who is passionate about educating the next generation of nurses.

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