The Positive Side

Fall/Winter 2006 

From the Front Lines: What’s happening at AIDS Service Organizations across the country

Treat Me Right

Keen to know about one of the tools doctors use when deciding on what drug combination to prescribe? Go to the Web site of the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, which has released an update of its HIV treatment guidelines. Offering the latest expert opinion on how to use anti-HIV drugs to keep the virus in check, the update outlines advice that is similar to international guidelines on many areas of treatment, such as the preferred drug combinations for people beginning treatment. It also includes new drugs such as tipranavir and duranavir, which hold the promise of helping treatment-experienced people living with HIV/AIDS to keep their viral load undetectable.

The BC guidelines are the only Canadian guidelines published to date, though a French version is soon expected from the Programme national de mentorat sur le VIH-sida (National HIV/AIDS Mentorship Program). The BC Centre can also be contacted at 1.604.806.8477.


Traditional Healing

“When we stop looking at how HIV infection occurs and start looking at why — the emotional and spiritual factors that lead to infection — then the magnitude of this issue becomes evident in Aboriginal communities,” says Ron Horsefall, Aboriginal PHA coordinator at All Nations Hope, a provincial Aboriginal HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C network based in Regina, Sask. Every day, Horsefall sees the problems that have led to an infection rate among Aboriginal people that is triple that found among other Canadians.

To coincide with World AIDS Day, the network teamed with AIDS Programs South Saskatchewan, to host a two-day conference that looked at both Aboriginal and non-Aboriginal approaches to the epidemic. While participants learned about safer ways to inject drugs and about treating HIV with antiretrovirals, they also explored Aboriginal healing traditions, including the Medicine Wheel, which is an outward expression of a deep inward belief. “One aspect of the Wheel concerns the mental, physical, spiritual and emotional — and is a way to deal with the trauma and the layers of grief and loss that exist in Aboriginal communities,” Horsefall says. “If these are not addressed infection rates will continue to rise unabated. Returning to traditional ways can bring healing to Aboriginal communities and PHAs.”


Power Up!

A new program by the Ontario AIDS Network (OAN) is empowering PHAs to lead the fight against HIV/AIDS. The network’s four-day leadership program brings PHAs from across the province together to find and strengthen the community leaders within themselves. To start, participants review the HIV/AIDS movement in Ontario by making a timeline with more than 80 events from around the province. They then add their personal history of HIV. Over the following days, PHAs discuss and work on various issues to define their leadership style and learn tips about how to put it in action. The lessons can be applied to many roles, from advocacy work to governance.

According to Thomas Egdorf, PHA program director at OAN, the free program, which runs several times a year, was developed by PHAs for PHAs and is delivered by PHAs. At the end, participants are encouraged to go back to their communities and work to promote positive change. Egdorf invites PHAs interested in the program to visit the network’s Web site or to call the network’s offices at 416.364.4555 or (toll free) 1.800.839.0369 for more information or to get involved.


Listen Up!

The cyberworld of francophone PHAs has taken on a whole new sonic dimension with the launch last summer of Radio Fréquence VIH, a Quebec-based Web site dedicated to telling the stories of French-speaking PHAs. Albert Martin and Luc Gagnon created the site to give a voice to PHAs, literally. And with help from the Comité des personnes atteintes du VIH du Québec (CPAVIH), they made their dream a reality this summer, introducing audio reports from AIDS 2006. They have also presented interviews with key players of the Quebec HIV/AIDS community. Visits to the site have grown to about 225 per day, with a third of the visitors from Quebec.

When looking to the future, Martin says the sky is the limit for programming, and he’s committed to making HIV treatment information a big part of what’s on offer. One thing he’s planning is a series of reports on challenges facing PHAs, with lipodystrophy as the first subject. It is scheduled to be online in mid-January. Aptly, the site also contains videos and news stories written by and for PHAs.


Are You Negative About Positives?

A new campaign launched in November by the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia (ACNS) asks the question “Are you negative about positives?” Posters appearing in local newspapers and bars in Halifax and environs address the different ways that stigma — including self-stigma — and discrimination affect HIV-positive gay men.

The group wants to raise awareness among the region’s gay community. And, says Executive Director Maria MacIntosh, “we want the campaign to provoke some discussion, maybe change some of the assumptions people have about HIV/AIDS. At the same time, we want to support HIV-positive men who are dealing with this in their daily lives.”

Support is key, but knowing where to turn is difficult, especially for people living in rural areas. As part of the campaign, the ACNS Web site offers information on the social, community and legal services offered in Nova Scotia.