In this day and age, taking good care of yourself includes knowing your HIV status
A message from Dr. Evan Adams, FNHA Chief Medical Officer
Today, December 1, is the 30th annual World AIDS Day. There are many successes to celebrate – significant progress has been made toward improving the AIDS response since 1988, when AIDS was first reported, and today, most people who are living with HIV know their status and are able to live full lives while managing this disease and avoiding AIDS. Also, as of January 1, 2018, a powerful drug treatment that can prevent HIV infection – Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis (PrEP) – was made available free of cost to British Columbians who are deemed to be at higher risk for contracting HIV. Click here to get the facts on this treatment.
However, in spite of this progress, there are still many misconceptions to eliminate, and a great deal of work remains to be done toward reaching people who are unaware they are living with HIV so that they can be linked to quality care and AIDS-prevention services.
That's why the global theme for this year's World AIDS Day is "Know Your Status." Today, the FNHA, together with other public health organizations around the world, is taking the opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of knowing one's status. We are also taking this opportunity to raise awareness about the importance of breaking down barriers to accessing HIV testing, which is a vital part of ending AIDS, as we said in a previous message.
The FNHA urges every adult to get a routine HIV test annuallyResearch has shown that an early diagnosis, in combination with sustained antiretroviral therapy, can result in HIV-positive people living up to an additional 55 years. Unfortunately, some people only get tested after they have symptoms and get sick, or mistakenly believe they are not at risk because they are not in the "men who have sex with men" exposure category, which continues to represent the largest number and proportion of all reported HIV cases in adults (44.1%). Don't let this be you! Every adult, regardless of sexual orientation, should get a yearly HIV test as part of their check-up. While there is no cure for HIV, there is a powerful anti-viral (and free) medication treatment that will suppress the virus and greatly improve both your health and your lifespan when taken as prescribed. Just as importantly, it will also prevent the transmission of HIV to others.
Where to go to get testedYou can ask your health care provider for an HIV test, and many medical clinics, substance abuse programs, community health centres, and hospitals offer them too. You can find a testing site near you at this website: https://smartsexresource.com/get-tested/clinic-finder. You can also buy a home testing kit at a pharmacy or online.
The FNHA is working on removing barriers to accessing HIV testing The issue of barriers to accessing HIV testing is especially important to our community, as Indigenous people not only continue to experience greater barriers to accessing health care in general, but to be disproportionately represented in BC's HIV epidemic. Indigenous people comprise 21.2 percent of new HIV diagnoses despite comprising approximately five percent of the total provincial population, according to the BC Communicable Disease Centre's 2016 HIV Report.
Why is the Indigenous population more affected by HIV? There are many reasons that our community is more hard-hit by HIV. Income, proximity to health care, gender, racism, classism, colonizing structures, historical and ongoing trauma, stigma, food insecurity, unstable housing, as well as psychiatric and other medical conditions, can all increase or profoundly influence an individual's risk of being exposed to and acquiring HIV. These factors influence equitable access to HIV information, prevention "tools" such as condoms and harm-reduction equipment, HIV testing, and HIV / AIDS treatment care and support. They also create barriers to access and influence the quality of care Indigenous people receive when they do manage to access it. Other barriers to HIV testing include the stigma and discrimination related to HIV / AIDS; this is experienced by non-Indigenous and Indigenous people alike. However, in remote Indigenous communities, where everyone knows everyone, including the health care providers and staff, access to confidential HIV testing is still an issue of concern. Unfortunately, stigma continues to cause people to avoid getting tested, or to put off testing and not get an early diagnosis. Again, don't let this be you!
Positive developments, discussions and decolonization work ongoingThe good news is that there are many new ways of expanding access to HIV testing, including self-testing, community-based testing, and multi-disease testing, all of which are helping people to know their HIV status.
There are also many helpful, informative, and even life-saving discussions going on and programs being delivered in Indigenous communities across BC. Because HIV transmission overlaps with the overdose crisis, the FNHA's – and other provincial public health organizations' – work to address the overdose crisis through harm-reduction approaches, and to promote and Indigenize these approaches, will also have a positive impact on both reducing the number of new HIV diagnoses and obtaining earlier diagnoses that can be effectively treated.
So, once again: please know your HIV status!I hope this brief message has convinced you of the importance of including an annual HIV test in your routine health and wellness check-up. As an Indigenous physician whose chosen profession is to help improve the health and wellness of other Indigenous people, I urge you to "Know Your Status" – please get tested for HIV regularly and annually! For more information on HIV, you can read my previous message or check out the BC Centre for Communicable Disease Control website.
About World AIDS Day World AIDS Day is a day for people worldwide to unite in the fight against HIV, to show support for people living with HIV, and to commemorate people who have died. HIV (Human Immunodeficiency Virus Syndrome), if not treated, can lead to AIDS (Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome). World AIDS Day was held for the first time at the 1988 World Summit of Ministers of Health on Programs for AIDS Prevention. Since then, every year United Nations agencies, governments and civil society join together to campaign around specific themes related to AIDS.