Healthy Living in the North

Tales from the Man Cave: Sex Happens

Request the HIV test

Visit 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 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.


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


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.


  • 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.


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 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.


IMAGINE Grants: helping to reduce barriers and create support


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.


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,, 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.


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 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,; 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

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.


National Aboriginal Day: A celebration of family and culture

June 21 was National Aboriginal Day – a day for Northern Aboriginal groups to come together and celebrate their culture and achievements.

NH reps at Aboriginal Day

L-R: Julia Stephenson, Joan Greenlees and Laura Johnston were three of the NH representatives talking to people about health and wellness at the Aboriginal Day celebrations.

Fort George Park, the traditional territory of the Lheidli T’enneh First Nation, was the site of celebrations in Prince George this year, and I dropped by in the morning to visit the folks at the Northern Health booth and catch the opening remarks. It was 10:30a.m. but already the sun was hot and there was a crowd milling about the local organizations’ booths (I saw Canadian Red Cross, UNBC, and the Northern BC First Nations HIV/AIDS Coalition, to name a few), and food and craft vendors.

I was welcomed at the Northern Health booth by Laura Johnston, a tobacco reduction coordinator from Population Health; Joan Greenlees, executive assistant for Northern Cancer Control Strategy and Aboriginal Health; and Julia Stephenson, an SFU practicum student working on her master’s degree in Public Health, who were all there to share information about NH public health and population health services, like healthy eating and quitting smoking.

“It’s good to have so many groups come together,” said Stephenson, who was happy to be helping Northern Health share health and wellness information with the public at the event. “The Aboriginal community is important and we want to celebrate everything they’re doing for our area.”

Bloodborne pathogens team

Trish Howard and Sandra Barnes were representing the NH bloodborne pathogens team, raising awareness about HIV/AIDS.

Next to the NH booth were some representatives of the new HIV101 campaign. I met Trish Howard, the Aboriginal Coordinator for the blood borne pathogens integration team, and Sandra Barnes, an HIV designate nurse. They were both in attendance to raise awareness and educate people about HIV/AIDS with the goal of reducing the stigma around the disease.

“Our biggest thing is getting the message out – HIV is not a death sentence,” said Barnes. “Early diagnosis is key – so get tested. If you’re sexually active, get tested.”

Barnes shared a frightening statistic: 25% of people that have HIV don’t know they have it, and it’s believed that this 25% is responsible for up to 75% of new infections.

“You can’t stop the spread if you don’t know, but we have everything to control it.” Barnes said being at events like the Aboriginal Day celebrations is important for their initiative because when you bring people together for a common goal, it’s easier to talk about difficult things when it’s out in the public.

I also had the pleasure of meeting Louella Nome, a community health rep and band councillor for Lheidli T’enneh. I asked her about the importance of events like this celebration to her community.

“It’s great – it’s about bringing people together and unity,” Nome said. “It’s building bridges – our strength comes in numbers.” She was excited to have a lot of family members together in one place.

And that’s really what the day was all about – celebrating family and being together.

Jessica Quinn

About Jessica Quinn

Jessica Quinn is the regional manager of health promotion and community engagement for Northern Health, where she is actively involved in promoting the great work of NH staff to encourage healthy, well and active lifestyles. She also manages NH's social media channels (Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, etc) and moderates all comments for the NH blog. When she's not working, Jessica stays active by exploring the beautiful outdoors around Prince George via kayak, hiking boots or snowshoes, and she has recently completed her master's degree in professional communications from Royal Roads University, with a focus on the use of social media in health care.