A Message from Mathew Fleury, Manager of First Nations Research Knowledge Exchange, Sara Pyke, Clinical Nurse Specialist, Sexually Transmitted and Blood Borne Infections, and Dr. Celeste Loewe, Medical Officer
This is a time to share knowledge, culture and reduce stigma
Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week is a time to raise awareness, share knowledge, and reduce fear and stigma. We can empower each other by starting conversations, honouring Indigenous people living with HIV/AIDS, and by remembering friends, family, and community members who have passed away from HIV/AIDs. This is an important time to take care of ourselves mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually.
Listening to the wisdom and teachings that Indigenous people living with HIV/AIDS have to offer us is essential. In the video Strong Medicine, Indigenous people living with HIV/AIDS share how culture and wellness are the foundational elements of HIV prevention and care. Western therapies are another important element. The speakers in the film encourage people to get tested for HIV and share their experiences and perspectives on starting, resuming and staying on HIV/AIDS treatment. For example, some people mention having fewer or no side effects over time on HIV/AIDS treatments that sometimes only require one daily pill.
The First Nations Health Authority (FNHA) recognizes the efforts of First Nations communities, including 2SLGBTQQIA+ individuals and their allies, who have played a significant role in advocating for the needs, interests, and priorities of those living with HIV/AIDS. We thank the many courageous and passionate community leaders who promote One Vision through Many Paths, including connecting with culture, honouring ourselves, and nurturing our spirits.
Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week is a national campaign guided by a steering committee of national Indigenous and non-Indigenous partners to reflect on the collaborative efforts in recognizing HIV/AIDS in Indigenous populations. It is an opportunity to:
This year's theme, One Vision, Many Paths, highlights the work being done to address HIV/AIDs within many diverse contexts. Weaving together efforts to address Missing and Murdered Indigenous Women, Girls, and Two-Spirit folks, the United Nations Declaration of the Rights of Indigenous People (UNDRIP), gender-based violence, HIV self-testing, and Indigenous worldviews, creates solidarity, unifies action, and strengthens wholistic policy and advocacy initiatives. To learn more about the virtual and in-person events that are happening this week, visit the Community Alliances and Networks (CAAN) Facebook page.
HIV is a virus that impacts our immune system
HIV stands for human immunodeficiency virus. HIV is a virus that can weaken the immune system, which is the body's built-in defense against disease and illness. With proper treatment and care, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives and avoid passing HIV to others. In fact, a person living with HIV who is on successful treatment cannot pass HIV to their sex partners.
It is important to get tested for HIV because someone can have it without knowing it. If a person is living with HIV and does not receive care and treatment, they can become very sick. This is sometimes referred to as AIDS (acquired immunodeficiency syndrome).
How HIV is - and is not - passed to others
HIV is mostly passed through activities that expose a person to any of the following bodily fluids: blood, semen, pre-seminal fluid, rectal fluids, vaginal fluids and breast milk. HIV can be passed through sex, sharing substance use supplies, as well as to a fetus or baby during pregnancy, birth or breastfeeding.
HIV cannot be passed by shaking hands or when working or eating with someone who has HIV. Nor is it spread through hugs, kisses, coughs, sneezes, spitting, swimming pools, toilet seats, water fountains, insects or animals.
HIV/AIDS disproportionately impacts Indigenous peoples
Indigenous peoples have been and continue to be disproportionately impacted by HIV/AIDS. HIV-positive (HIV+) Indigenous individuals experience substantial health and social inequalities across Canada and worldwide. Barriers to the social determinants of health are a direct result of ongoing colonialism and include factors such as income, proximity to healthcare services, gender, racism, historical and ongoing trauma, food and housing insecurity, as well as medical and mental health challenges.
Stigma and discrimination about HIV/AIDS create even more barriers to testing and treatment. This is particularly true in rural and remote First Nations communities, where accessing testing options and treatment services may be limited. This is a major concern, because it could result in people putting off testing and not getting an early diagnosis. Addressing stigma through education and awareness is important for all of us.
There are ways to prevent HIV
There is no vaccine to prevent HIV but there are things we can do to avoid passing or getting HIV. We can:
There are also medications that can be taken preventatively or immediately after a potential exposure to HIV to reduce the chance of getting HIV. Learn more about HIV here.
People with HIV/AIDS can lead healthy lives
Preventing HIV and living a healthy life with HIV is an important aspect of overall wholistic health and wellness. The FNHA Sexual Wellbeing Learning Model emphasizes the values of cooperation, respect, kindness, balance, love, patience, and celebrating culture. It draws attention to how taking care of our sexual health is about protecting loved ones and community; it's about having healthy relationships, feeling a strong sense of identity, and practicing our culture and traditions.
To access sexual health care, consider the following resources: