Healthy Living in the North

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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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 hiv101.ca 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, hiv101.ca; 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 hiv101.ca.

Joanne MacDonald

About Joanne MacDonald

Joanne MacDonald is a communications consultant for Northern Health. 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.

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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 digital communications and public 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 manages NH's content channels, including social media (Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, etc). 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. (NH Blog Admin)

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