British Columbia, Vancouver Island in particular, is in the midst of health tragedy that many of us find hard to describe. In one sense, we can trace the beginning of this crisis to Thursday, April 14th, 2016 when the chief medical office, flanked by the B.C. Minister of Health, declared a public health emergency to address what had already been four terrible months of overdose-related deaths. Since then, I have been privy to receiving periodic updates from the B.C. Coroner Service on the ever-climbing death toll—the most recent post released mid-September.
On a personal note, this ever-escalating human tragedy started for me on December 21st, 2015, three weeks after the Royal Jubilee Hospital in Victoria had stolen from their premises what has since been described as the largest theft of fentanyl in the history of the Vancouver Island Health Authority. On that afternoon of December 21st, the body of a much-liked client was discovered in a parkade less than a block from the region’s largest needle exchange. He died of an overdose.
“CWGHR,” I responded to my new friend at the 2016 International AIDS Conference in Durban, South Africa. I pronounce our acronym like, “Quigger.”
“Oh, I’ve never heard of Quitter.”
“… that’s because the name is actually, CWGHR”.
Picture it … Quebec City, 1998, thirty people with diverse interests, identities and professions meet to discuss the idea of HIV and rehabilitation for the first time. All were curious, but unsure of the connection between rehabilitation and HIV prevention, treatment, care and support and the role they could play. There the Canadian Working Group on HIV and Rehabilitation (CWGHR) was born! As people were no longer expecting to die of AIDS, this group of pioneers could see that rehabilitation – in a broad sense – was key to enabling people living with HIV to not only survive, but also thrive.
Many of you may have noticed the ebb and flow of the community-based HIV movement, influenced by medical and scientific breakthroughs, funder priorities, community activism and larger political, social and economic forces. Throughout my 20-plus years in HIV community-based work and volunteering, I have tried to ground myself in a few bedrocks as a way of anchoring my work. The essential connection between health and human rights. The need for policies, programs and services grounded in evidence and lived experience. Recognition of the central role played by the social determinants of health. And a commitment to social justice and taking seriously the voices of those most affected. That’s why I signed on to The Canadian Consensus Statement on the health and prevention benefits of HIV antiretroviral medications and HIV testing. The Consensus Statement uses these same foundations to ground a comprehensive, community-driven, holistic response to the HIV epidemic that combines HIV treatment and prevention, and health and human rights.
By Sarah Flicker and the Native Youth Sexual Health Network
Taking Action II is a community-based action research project about building and supporting Indigenous youth leadership in the HIV/AIDS movement. We are a group of Indigenous youth leaders, Indigenous community-based organizations and university-based researchers. We wanted to create awareness around HIV, sexual health, and decolonization in First Nations, Métis, and Inuit communities across Turtle Island (also known as Canada).
In Taking Action I, we worked with over 100 youth in six Indigenous communities across Canada to make art about the links between HIV and colonization. We did this as a way of broadening the conversations about HIV – to move away from the individual shame-and-blame discourse. We wanted to help communities understand and respond back to all the structural factors that have conspired to make them vulnerable to HIV: racism, poverty, land theft, residential schools, loss of language/culture, epidemics of addiction, the Sixties Scoop (the practice of taking Indigenous children and placing them in foster homes beginning in the 1960s) and ongoing child welfare involvement, incarceration, etc. Youth created a lot of amazing art that took up these themes. They loved our workshops and asked for more opportunities to get together with youth from other communities.
On February 27, 2016 CATIE had the opportunity to host another Learning Institute (LI) at the 5th Canadian Symposium on HCV in Montreal, Quebec. Learning Institutes are exciting knowledge-exchange and capacity-building opportunities for stakeholders engaged in Hep C prevention, treatment and care across Canada. Our 15 rapporteurs learned about current research and worked together to summarize that information and bring it back to their communities.
In part two of this two-part blog series, two rapporteurs reflect on their experiences at the LI.
The CATIE Blog hosts the views and opinions of people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C.