Healthy Living in the North

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,


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. (Sam no longer works with Northern Health, we wish him all the best.)


Tales from the Man Cave: Sex Happens

Request the HIV test

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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.


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.