This past year the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network (CAAN) held its annual gathering, on the theme of “transforming wholistic approaches to Indigenous health.”
It’s a gathering of First Nations, Métis and Inuit people, combining a business meeting, a gathering of Aboriginal people with HIV/AIDS, and the ‘Wise Practices’ research conference.
But more importantly, it is a gathering of colleagues who have become friends, clients who have become peers, people with HIV who have become community leaders, and an extended family. Also present are elders welcoming delegates to their traditional lands, and children – the younger ones mostly playing with each other and the older children learning and participating with their moms.
A volunteer from the Victorian AIDS Council at a community march.
By Brent Allan, Laurel Sprague, Suzy Malhotra and Rebecca Matheson
The partnerships forged between people living with HIV and researchers have been an essential foundation upon which the response to the HIV epidemic has grown. And the time has come to reaffirm and recommit to principles of inclusion and respect in the conduct of presenting research findings that impacts on our lives.
For people living with HIV and their allies, 2017 was a ground-breaking year. It culminated with both the federal and Ontario governments publicly recognizing the need to limit the over-criminalization of HIV in Canada. On World AIDS Day 2017, both acknowledged that criminal prosecution for alleged HIV non-disclosure is not warranted when a person living with HIV has a “suppressed viral load” (i.e., less than 200 copies of HIV/ml of blood) because such an individual poses no “realistic possibility” of transmitting the virus—the Supreme Court’s legal test for whether a duty to disclose exists.
In his famous poem “The Blind Men and the Elephant”, John Godfrey Saxe retells an Indian parable about three blind men who went to see an elephant. Of course, being blind, they could only ‘see’ the elephant by touching it. When asked to describe the elephant, one grabbed it by its trunk and said, “An elephant is like a snake!” The second man took his turn to touch it, pulled it by the leg, and confidently determined, “No, an elephant is like a tree trunk!” The third and final person to touch the elephant grabbed it by its tusks and said, “Tsk, tsk, tsk, you are both wrong: an elephant is smooth, cold and hard.” Each of the men touched the elephant, yet from their perspectives, the experiences of the elephant were totally different.
Thanks to effective anti-HIV treatment, HIV has evolved into a chronic illness. However, people living with HIV often today also live with other physical and mental health conditions, which can be difficult to cope with, especially for those also coping with difficult socio-economic circumstances.
To provide quality care to people living with HIV and other long-term medical and social conditions, health-care providers not only need to ensure that people living with HIV are engaged in quality health care, but we also need to enhance the capacity of Canadian HIV clinics to integrate and coordinate additional resources. By integrating and coordinating resources, we help address the needs of a whole person —needs that often cut across the various disciplines, specialties, sectors and systems that we have traditionally organized care around.
The good news is that through several interconnected research studies, our research team led out of the Bruyère Research Institute in Ottawa has shown that the complex health and social care needs of people living with HIV can be met –and, in fact, are being met –by various care models, settings and teams working in HIV clinics across Canada.
The CATIE Blog hosts the views and opinions of people and organizations working and volunteering in Canada’s response to HIV and hepatitis C.