The Positive Side

Summer 2007 

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

NORTH
LOOKING NORTH FOR ANSWERS

Most people in the southern part of this country know very little about northern Canada and the realities of life above the treeline. Southern Canadians’ lack of awareness about the high hepatitis C and HIV infection rates among the Inuit community illustrates that point all too well. But now, with an announcement that Pauktuutit Inuit Women of Canada — an Ottawa-based organization “providing leadership, voice and excellence for the betterment of Inuit women, their families and communities” — has received a seed grant from the Canadian Institutes of Health Research, a much clearer picture should soon be available.

Indeed, public health experts have been profoundly concerned that the situation is dire. While there are few reliable statistics on HIV infection rates in the North, experts and some community leaders point to very high rates of sexually transmitted infections (from 9 to 125 times the national average) and alarming rates of teenage pregnancies (2.5 to 4 times the national average). Human papilloma virus (HPV) is also over-represented among the Inuit. According to a recent briefing, these elevated rates indicate a grave potential for the entry and spread of hepatitis C and HIV.

There are concerns, too, about stigma and discrimination against Inuit people living with HIV and hepatitis C, says Jeanette Doucet, manager of Sexual Health and HIV/AIDS Policy and Programs at Pauktuutit. “The lack of openness… often leads to isolation and ostracism for Inuit PHAs and can force them to stay in and hide their illness or flee to urban centres where they may access care and treatment. This isolation and transition, on top of a very aggressive and deadly illness, can be overwhelming for many.”

The project — entitled Strengthening Community-Based Approaches to HIV/AIDS Education, Screening, and Testing among Canadian Inuit Youth — is a partnership between Pauktuutit and Dalhousie University and will begin preliminary community consultation in Arviat, Iqaluit, and Montreal to identify priorities. The result will be recommendations for the focus of future research and programming.

For more info, go to www.pauktuutit.ca.

PACIFIC
LIKE SEA AND SKY

Yin and yang. Positive and negative. Black and white. They say opposites attract, and it’s true — just ask any happy couple that is serodiscordant (meaning one partner is HIV-positive and the other HIV-negative). But understanding our opposites can take a lot of work. And that’s why the Positive Living Society of British Columbia  (Positive Living BC) held its second of three pilot weekend retreats for serodiscordant couples in late May.

Building on BCPWA’s 20-year history of offering healing retreats to clients, team member Neil Self says the goal of this new retreat is to strengthen, affirm and enhance the relationships of serodiscordant couples. Over four days, partners participate in guided sessions on communication and couple visioning as well as a massage workshop and social activities. There’s also a seminar on HIV prevention and negotiating risk as partners become more intimate.

The couples also separate and do group work with participants of the same HIV status. “Some couples don’t know a lot of people in their situation,” says Self. “It really helps them to connect with others and share their experiences.”

Free of charge, the retreat is open to serodiscordant couples in British Columbia and attracts about equal numbers of same-sex and opposite-sex couples. For more information check out the Positive Living BC Web site (www.positivelivingbc.org/) or call the retreat hotline at 1.604.893.2213.

Ontario
HELP SEEKING HELP

Ever wondered where to find an AIDS service organization (ASO) that provides housing support in your area? Or how to get in touch with an ASO that offers services in, say, Cree? You’re not alone. “There is a wealth of HIV/AIDS information on the Internet,” says Mark Fischer, manager of e-health at the Ontario HIV Treatment Network, “but no real place to find Ontario organizations and what they offer.”

Until now. This spring, the OHTN launched virtual ASO yellow pages that allow searchers to find services in their area of Ontario. The Web site, HIV411.ca, goes one better than a traditional directory by having visitors search by postal code (so they can find what is closest to them) and by type of service sought or offered.

The listing already contains about 150 organizations that provide services that include bereavement counselling and volunteer opportunities. While the Web site covers Ontario for now, Fischer says it is a model that can be easily copied in other regions of the country. For more info, contact Greg Mitchell at gmitchell@ohtn.on.ca or 416.642.6486, ext. 303.

Quebec
SUNDAY AT SIMON’S

For those with fond childhood memories of Choose Your Own Adventure, the book series in which the reader decides what happens next, the Web-based comic strip Sunday at Simon’s is a new twist.

Simon is a fictional young gay man negotiating the pleasures and perils of life in Montreal’s gay village. Each month, visitors to the Sunday at Simon’s site follow Simon’s adventures to find out how things have worked out since the last episode. Then they vote on what Simon should do next. Just like in real life, Simon doesn’t always make the best choice, and sometimes things don’t work out.

Sunday at Simon’s is part of a project we are launching to promote discussion about a holistic approach to health among gay men,” says Doug McColeman, education and prevention director at AIDS Community Care Montreal. “In the comic we want to present a scenario that reflects the lives of gay men and gets them involved.” The comic takes a broader, more realistic look at sexual health, including why people put themselves at risk for HIV and what role HIV-positive people can play in reducing transmission.

McColeman already envisions some surprises for the young character, including one from his friend Pierre-Marc.

Atlantic
STUCK BETWEEN THE ROCK AND A HARD PLACE

While Newfoundland’s tourism operators may want you to think of the island as a magical getaway from the stress of urban life, Fred Andersen knows that his home province shares many problems with the rest of Canada and its largest cities. “We’re just like everybody else,” says the injection-drug use project coordinator at the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador (ACNL). Andersen knows what he’s talking about: he recently undertook a study on injection-drug use in St. John’s and throughout the province. The results are disturbingly familiar.

Based on a 2005 Health Canada estimate of almost 600 injection drug users (IDUs) in Newfoundland and Labrador, Andersen’s study focused less on counting heads and more on identifying what is stopping IDUs from using services that will help them reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis C. “Users are open to talking and they know about ways to reduce risk,” says Andersen, “but it’s impossible to [reduce risk] because the services are not there.” Persistent lack of awareness and perceptions of stigma among healthcare professionals are other significant barriers. Furthermore, while ACNL runs a needle-exchange program — the only one in St. John’s, according to Andersen — standard estimates suggest that such programs serve only 5 percent of the island’s users. Andersen is planning education programs targeted to healthcare professionals to better understand the needs of the IDUs in the province. Visit www.acnl.net for more info.