Canada has signed on to global targets to eliminate HIV and hepatitis C as public health threats by 2030. While ambitious, these targets are now a realistic possibility thanks to the effectiveness of modern medications. HIV treatment can suppress the virus so successfully that HIV-positive Canadians who start treatment early can have life expectancies similar to their HIV-negative peers. This also prevents the transmission of HIV to their sexual partners. And most Canadians treated for hepatitis C are now cured within weeks.
The Gardiner Museum of Ceramic Art, in partnership with the Toronto Community Hep C Program (TCHCP), invited people with lived experience of hepatitis C to take part in an art project called The Face of Our Story. In that project, clay tiles depicting stories of lived experience would be displayed at the museum on World Hepatitis Day, July 28, 2016. This is the story of Signe and Tom who participated in the event.
The day arrived when we met with museum staff, were given a tour, and the project was explained to us. We were nervous. We were proud to be part of this experience, but at the same time unsure of our surroundings and what was expected of us. None of us had ever put on an art show in a museum. We spoke in hushed tones and experienced a feeling of reverence as we saw the beautiful work of other artists. We exchanged glances and thought, “Uh oh! What are we doing here?”
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.
After a long battle, the SABSA solidarity co-operative clinic – an acronym which translates roughly to service at a low-threshold of accessibility – succeeded in negotiating a service agreement with the Québec Ministry of Health on July 20th, to continue to offer its services to members of the Saint-Roch and Saint-Sauveur communities in Québec City.
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.