Healthy Living in the North

People first: Life under stigma

Did you know that people living with HIV still experience stigma and discrimination in our province?

According to the recent BC People Living with HIV Stigma Index research, 52% of participants had confronted stigma in the last year, and 30% reported that stigma or discrimination had caused them to avoid health care services. Stigma and discrimination also caused 24% of respondents to avoid using social services.

December 1, 2019 is World AIDS Day – an opportunity to recognize the achievements in HIV and AIDS prevention and treatment, show our support for people living with AIDS, and remember those people who have died from AIDS-related illnesses. This year, let’s talk about how we can reduce stigma and discrimination associated with HIV.

Negative stereotypes, or stigma, associated with HIV are rooted in fear, as well as lack of information and awareness about the virus. When we act on these negative stereotypes and treat people with HIV differently, we are exhibiting discrimination. We can help create a safer environment for people living with HIV by knowing the facts about the virus and utilizing inclusive and respectful language.

HIV can affect anyone. Those living with HIV are people first; they are children, siblings, parents, and friends. We need to treat them as such.

Ashley Stoppler

About Ashley Stoppler

Born and raised in Prince George, Ashley is a two-time UNBC graduate. She has worked for Northern Health since 2004 and has held nine positions across the spectrum of health care, ranging from Maternity to Long Term Care, and many areas in between. She’s recently moved into a strategic position with the Regional Chronic Diseases Program, focusing on HIV, Hepatitis C, Chronic Pain and Arthritis. Ashley is active in her community, sitting on the board on the YMCA of Northern BC and teaching yoga in her “spare time.” She also likes to channel her inner Martha Stewart at the sewing machine and in the kitchen, but what brings her the most joy in life is the time she gets to spend adventuring with her husband, infant son, and toddler dog.

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National Pain Awareness Week: Living with pain

National Pain Awareness Week graphic, depicting five graphic people, four in white, and one in orange, with the title: One in five Canadians lives with pain.We have all felt pain in our life, whether a stubbed toe, a paper cut, or some other minor injury. For most of us, pain is an infrequent and short term problem – something that we deal with and then get on with our day. However, for one in five Canadians, pain isn’t fleeting. It’s a constant and often excruciating companion.

For the last 15 years, the first week of November has been National Pain Awareness Week in Canada, a time to raise awareness of and support for people living with chronic pain. When you pause for a moment and consider the facts, I think you’ll see why that’s important:

  • Chronic pain is the most frequent cause of suffering and disability.
  • Pain is the number one reason people access health care, accounting for about half of all physician visits.
  • People living with chronic pain are twice as likely to experience depression and anxiety.
  • One in five Canadians live with chronic pain.
  • About 60,000 adults within the North experience chronic pain.
  • Approximately 1,400 Northern Health employees are estimated to experience chronic pain.

Chronic pain differs from acute pain in several ways. We all experience acute pain and can usually identify a trigger for the pain — such as an injury — and it usually goes away fairly quickly. The pain of a sprained ankle from stumbling on the stairs, a backache after lifting something heavy, or a painful incision after a surgery are all examples of acute pain.

Chronic pain is more subjective and can be a sensory and/or emotional experience. It’s not always possible to find a connection between an injury or illness and the pain being experienced, and even when it is, the pain is often much greater than we may expect. Chronic pain lasts for more than three months, and may come and go, or it may be constant. Spine disease, headache disorders, fibromyalgia, and arthritis are just a few of the conditions commonly associated with chronic pain.

Sometimes there is no apparent underlying cause – no prior injury and no apparent tissue damage. However, for the one in five Canadians living with chronic pain, their lives are significantly impacted.

In our province, Pain BC has developed numerous resources and self-management tools to support both individuals with chronic pain and their family members. If you or someone you care about is living with chronic pain, you may find the following resources helpful:

Ashley Stoppler

About Ashley Stoppler

Born and raised in Prince George, Ashley is a two-time UNBC graduate. She has worked for Northern Health since 2004 and has held nine positions across the spectrum of health care, ranging from Maternity to Long Term Care, and many areas in between. She’s recently moved into a strategic position with the Regional Chronic Diseases Program, focusing on HIV, Hepatitis C, Chronic Pain and Arthritis. Ashley is active in her community, sitting on the board on the YMCA of Northern BC and teaching yoga in her “spare time.” She also likes to channel her inner Martha Stewart at the sewing machine and in the kitchen, but what brings her the most joy in life is the time she gets to spend adventuring with her husband, infant son, and toddler dog.

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World AIDS Day 2018: Know your status

A hand holding a small red AIDS ribbon.I distinctly remember learning about HIV and AIDS back in 1992 during my grade 7 Family Life class (no need to do the math to calculate how old that makes me!). AIDS was absolutely terrifying to this naïve 12 year old. I clearly recall a few things:

  1. HIV could not be transmitted through every day contact like a handshake, hug, or even from using the same toilet seat.
  2. HIV was transmitted through direct contact with bodily fluids, such as through unprotected sex or the use of intravenous drugs.
  3. HIV turned into AIDS, which then led to illness and certain death.

Since taking on my new role, which focuses heavily on HIV, I’ve been brushing up on the facts related to HIV and AIDS. I’m really proud of my teacher for clearly articulating that HIV isn’t easily transmitted. I think that having this understanding prevented me from being unnecessarily afraid of people living with HIV. She also taught the importance of protected sex and not sharing needles, which is still absolutely key in preventing the spread of HIV. However, some things have changed and it’s super exciting!

The facts about HIV

Advances in testing and treatment have transformed the prognosis for people living with HIV. Did you know that:

  • HIV is now considered a chronic illness?
  • Treatment, for some, can consist of only one pill per day?
  • People can live their entire lives with HIV and not ever develop AIDS?
  • A person with HIV has every chance now to live almost as long as someone who does not carry the virus?

However, these facts are only true for people who are aware of their HIV status and are actively participating in treatment.

Know your status

The theme of this year’s World AIDS Day is “Know Your Status,” encouraging all of us to know our HIV status. The latest UNAIDS Report shows that between 10-20% of people do not know they are infected with HIV. If a person isn’t aware that they have HIV, they will not be receiving the treatment that they need to allow them to live a long, healthy life and they may not be taking the necessary precautions to prevent the transmission of the virus to others. Alternately, once a person knows they have HIV, they can access treatment and psychosocial supports to suppress the virus in their body and employ the necessary measures to avoid passing HIV on to their loved ones.

When was the last time you were tested for HIV?

I was tested last year as part of prenatal screening to ensure that, had I been infected, transmission to my baby could be avoided. My mom was tested this year because her doctor offers testing to everyone between 18-70 years of age, at least every 5 years. My good friend recently asked to be tested before beginning a sexual relationship with a new partner.

It’s up to each of us to take responsibility for our health, and the health of our communities, by knowing our own HIV status. If you haven’t been tested recently, what are you waiting for? It’s a simple blood test that can make a world of difference. To get tested, ask your physician or nurse practitioner to order the lab work for you. For other ways to access HIV testing, or to learn more about the virus and how it can be transmitted, visit www.hiv101.ca.

I’m amazed at how far HIV research has come since those days of grade 7 Family Life. However, we still have a long way to go in reducing the stigma associated with HIV and eradicating the virus all together, and the first step is normalizing getting tested for HIV.

My son will be 12 in 2030, which is likely when he will take Family Life like I did. My hope is, by that point in time, there won’t be a module on HIV and AIDS because the ongoing progress on prevention and treatment will have been successful in completely eradicating the virus.

Ashley Stoppler

About Ashley Stoppler

Born and raised in Prince George, Ashley is a two-time UNBC graduate. She has worked for Northern Health since 2004 and has held nine positions across the spectrum of health care, ranging from Maternity to Long Term Care, and many areas in between. She’s recently moved into a strategic position with the Regional Chronic Diseases Program, focusing on HIV, Hepatitis C, Chronic Pain and Arthritis. Ashley is active in her community, sitting on the board on the YMCA of Northern BC and teaching yoga in her “spare time.” She also likes to channel her inner Martha Stewart at the sewing machine and in the kitchen, but what brings her the most joy in life is the time she gets to spend adventuring with her husband, infant son, and toddler dog.

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