Talking about HIV during COVID-19: How the Strong Medicine Guide can help you structure your conversations
Are you interested in hosting a conversation in your community or organization about HIV? Looking for some tips on how to do this? Look no further than the just launched Strong Medicine Guide, an accompanying resource for the Strong Medicine film that came out in 2018.
It is important to pause and reflect on the unusual time we are experiencing, making it difficult to connect with each other, not to mention the challenges of coming together to share stories and experiences in a meaningfully engaging way. As Indigenous people, we have a long history of sharing stories, lessons and knowledge, of connecting both the speaker and the listener. All of which is shared through the experience of gathering together, the approach that the Strong Medicine Guide encourages. However, the lives of people, families and communities around the world changed with the advent of the novel coronavirus disease (COVID-19).
The impact of COVID-19 and HIV
There are some similarities that COVID-19 and HIV share: both are viral epidemics that have impacted the lives of many people. There are currently no cures for either and we are waiting for a vaccine to help address both. Until there are vaccines, the best prevention is changing our behaviours. For COVID-19 that means hand hygiene, practising physical distancing and staying home if you’re sick. For HIV, as shared in the film Strong Medicine, it means safer sex and safer drug use. For both HIV and COVID-19, there is a need for trusted information that is current, timely, relevant and evidence-based to prevent, care and treat both viruses.
In the Strong Medicine film, people living with HIV share their stories and experiences of how they have worked to bring balance to their lives by reconnecting with their culture. Similarly, the Strong Medicine Guide encourages the use of storytelling and the sharing of information and cultural teachings to create a safe and comfortable space for conversations to happen around HIV in Indigenous communities. With COVID-19 measures relaxing in some parts of the country, we can still create those safe spaces to have meaningful discussions about HIV by having small gatherings or using virtual platforms to meet online.
We can still connect with one another
The way in which we gather may have changed, but that shouldn’t stop the gatherings from happening or change the intention of gathering. It’s still important to connect and have deep thoughtful discussions. The irony can’t be overlooked, though: keeping physically distance when connecting in person for deeper discussion and understanding. We recommend that you ensure there is enough space to accommodate creating safe space for teachings to be shared. If it’s a virtual gathering, ensure cultural teachings are shared in a meaningful way. It is still possible to carry on with this important work and thoughtful conversations, but it will need a bit more planning and creativity, at least for a while, until COVID-19 is better managed.
You may find that a virtual gathering is a learning opportunity, if it is not already part of your work routine. For individuals or teams who typically work remotely, perhaps it creates a new opportunity to hold space and an alternative way to have deeper discussions, bringing us closer to meaningful change. The guide provides tools that can be used by anyone interested in facilitating the process of learning together, whether this is a new way of working or something that you have experience in. There is no better time to explore a new way of gathering, this important work must continue.
Jessica Chenery, Penelakut, Program Lead
Harlan Pruden, Cree, Educator
Felicia Tebb, Ojibwe, Administrative & Community Support
Amanda Porter, St’uxtews, Nurse Educator
Jessica, Harlan, Felicia and Amanda, all of First Nations descent, work for the Chee Mamuk program at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control. The Chee Mamuk program is a comprehensive, evidence-based and community driven program that has been working in relationship with Indigenous communities across British Columbia for 30 years. The collective goal of the Chee Mamuk program is to develop programming and resources that are engaging and meaningful to communities in reclaiming culture and traditional teachings.