National HIV Testing Day, a day of awareness which started in Saskatchewan and is now marked across the country, will be held June 27. It is Canada’s only national community-based HIV testing initiative to promote better sexual health outcomes for everyone.
For years, HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus) was synonymous with AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome) and was thought to be a virus infecting only those individuals living a “high risk” lifestyle.
The Society for the Involvement of Good Neighbours (SIGN) Outreach challenges those out-dated assumptions through education and advocacy, leading to supportive environments for those infected or affected by this virus.
To Candice Nelson, SIGN Outreach’s social worker, a major part of this is decreasing the stigma associated with HIV through community engagement.
“There is so much misinformation and misunderstanding about HIV, it creates an almost debilitating fear to even talk about it,” she says. “The conversation needs to start somewhere because we’re dealing with people’s lives.”
National HIV Testing Day is not just about getting tested, but about raising awareness and redefining what it means to live with HIV in 2019, she points out. Medications are available to prevent transmission both before and after an exposure of the virus. With new medical advances, people with HIV are living healthy lives by essentially putting the virus to sleep and not allowing it to progress to AIDS.
“The U=U campaign, which stands for Undetectable = Untransmittable, dispels the myths about HIV transmission by proclaiming someone with an undetectable viral load cannot transmit HIV, even without the use of condoms. By staying connected to care, HIV is no longer the death sentence it once was and sharing community with someone living with HIV should not be seen as a risk,” Ms. Nelson points out.
An estimated 63,110 Canadians are living with HIV at the end of 2016, an increase of five per cent since 2014. This increase is a result of both new infections and fewer deaths due to effective treatment options.
An estimated 14 per cent of people with HIV in Canada are unaware of their diagnosis. Saskatchewan has nearly triple the Canadian rate of people living with HIV.
“This is no longer an issue affecting ‘them’ and testing should be seen as routine for everyone,” Ms. Nelson says. “As with some forms of cancer and other diagnoses, not fitting the stereotypical risk factors does not equal immunity. Getting tested is the only way to know if you have the virus and early intervention is key.”
She notes that everyone has an HIV status. “Do you know yours?” Knowing your status is important, she adds, because relying on the myths and misinformation can be dangerous.
“Reacting out of fear and assumptions creates a divided community. In truth, HIV is a delicate virus and is not as easily to contract as many people think. We have access to vaccines, hospital care, medications, an all number of supports for our health.
“People owe it to themselves and others to see beyond the risk factors, know their status, and consider making an HIV test part of their medical routine,” she says.
The following activities will be conducted by SIGN Outreach during the week of National HIV Testing Day:
Monday, June 24, 1 pm to 3:30 pm: information booth at Assiniboine Valley Medical Centre in Kamsack about testing -- who should be tested, where you can be tested, what is the test, etc.
Tuesday, June 25, 10 am to 2 pm: Testing at New Beginnings Drop-in Centre in Kamsack.
Wednesday, June 26, 9 am to 12 noon: Info booth at Kamsack Hospital waiting room.
Thursday, June 27, 10 am to 2 pm: Testing Day at Room 109, SIGN on Broadway, 345 Broadway St. West Yorkton. A barbeque will be held from 11.30 am to 1 pm for those attending Testing Day.
The focus of Outreach is to increase supportive environments for individuals infected with, or at risk of sexually transmitted blood and body fluids infection (STBBI), including Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) and Hepatitis.
The Outreach social worker provides support for individuals and connections to community supports and services.
The goal of the SIGN Outreach Program is to decrease the stigma of STBBIs through community engagement and education as well as increasing access to supportive services and resources for individuals.
Presentations and education are available on many topics including HIV, Hepatitis C, and harm reduction.
The program has offices in Kamsack at 359 Queen Elizabeth Blvd. East and in Yorkton at Room 106, 345 Broadway St W.
For more information contact the Outreach Social Worker.
Box 368, Kamsack, SK S0A 1S0
SIGN Outreach was recognized Thursday night, May 9, at the 28th annual Canadian Conference on HIV/AIDS Research held in Saskatoon.
Outreach social worker Candice Nelson is attending the conference, sponsored by the Saskatchewan Health Authority. On Thursday night during the conference opening, several programs through Saskatchewan were acknowledged, including SIGN Outreach.
“The SIGN Outreach Program has a very dedicated staff, Candice, that travels around the Parkland area to support people living with, or at risk of HIV in any way they may want to address barriers they may face, such as simple things like getting ID, bank accounts or maybe just finding donated maternity clothes.”