Healthy Living in the North

HIV/AIDS awareness through the arts: An IMAGINE grant project in action

Northern Health’s IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to a variety of groups with projects that make northern communities healthier. Our hope is that these innovative projects inspire healthy community actions where you live! Check out the story below and read more IMAGINE Community Grant stories.


They say a picture is worth a thousand words. After seeing the amazing entries in the art and slogan contest that formed part of the Learning HIV/AIDS Awareness through the Arts / Multicultural Festival, I can’t argue with that!

To get people talking about HIV/AIDS, the Dze L K’ant Friendship Centre Society came up with a unique, three-part project that was supported by an IMAGINE grant. The project included:

  1. An art / slogan contest for HIV/AIDS awareness.
  2. A series of monthly, free workshops on a variety of art topics where participants could get HIV/AIDS information as well as art supplies.
  3. An art gala and multicultural festival to bring the community together and to display the many messages and creations that were submitted.

Throughout the project, the organizers shared information about HIV/AIDS, testing locations, and community resources.

Why an art-based project?

“Art in its many forms – paintings, music, dance, and more – has always been a means for people of all backgrounds to gather and break down barriers and inhibitions,” shared Patricia Kolida, project organizer. “This project has given the opportunity for HIV/AIDS awareness and cultural inclusiveness for the whole community.”

I could tell you all about the entries, the creative slogans, and the powerful messages, but that would miss the point entirely, wouldn’t it? So, without further ado, here are a few of my favourite submissions:

Colourful poster reading: HIV comes in many colours. Be HIV aware.

Poster with drawing of light bulb reads: Bring HIV to light. Don't be in dark.

Flowers growing out of pot with text reading: Bring AIDS awareness to life and save a life. Be safe.

Poster with text: Respect, love, peace, courage

First Nations art

Poster with text: "HIV awareness. Please protect yourself ... talk to someone!

Poster with red ribbon and text: "Be HIV aware. Get tested."

Colourful poster with text: "Beware of HIV. It affects everyone. Don't discriminate. Be part of solution, not the discrimination.

How did it go?

According to Patricia, “It was a joy to see our clients within the community engage in the many HIV/AIDS awareness art workshops to produce their messages of HIV/AIDS awareness. The clients felt proud of their accomplishments, which were on display at our art gala. The evening was rich with multicultural entertainment showcasing traditional and modern performances. Speeches were given with message that HIV/AIDS affects all cultures, races, ages, and genders.”

What creative ideas do you have to promote healthy outcomes in your community? Apply for an IMAGINE grant today!


IMAGINE Community Grants provide funding to community organizations, service agencies, First Nations bands and organizations, schools, municipalities, regional districts, not-for-profits, and other partners with projects that make northern communities healthier. We are looking for applications that will support our efforts to prevent chronic disease and injury, and improve overall well-being in our communities. At the time of this story’s publication, the deadline for the next cycle of IMAGINE Community Grants is March 31, 2017.

Vince Terstappen

About Vince Terstappen

Vince Terstappen is a Project Assistant with the health promotions team at Northern Health. He has an undergraduate and graduate degree in the area of community health and is passionate about upstream population health issues. Born and raised in Calgary, Vince lived, studied, and worked in Saskatoon, Victoria, and Vancouver before moving to Vanderhoof in 2012. When not cooking or baking, he enjoys speedskating, gardening, playing soccer, attending local community events, and Skyping with his old community health classmates who are scattered across the world. Vince works with Northern Health program areas to share healthy living stories and tips through the blog and moderates all comments for the Northern Health Matters blog. (Vince no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)

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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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