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  • In a Word: “Together”

    April 11th, 2014

    by Janet Madsen  |  @janet_madsen


    I attended a webinar on Wednesday about women and HIV. It featured Dr. Mary Kestler of Oak Tree Clinic, and Alana, a woman living with HIV.  Both women made some great points on HIV care, relationships, and risk.


    Alana talked about the details of diagnosis- her extreme seroconversion sickness, an alarming viral load. When she started HIV treatment she had side effects that made her very sick, so she worked with her doctor to change the regime and make it more manageable. Thankfully, now she’s healthy and doing well.

    Alana also talked openly about the stigma she’s experienced in First Nations communities. One time she was turned away from a Sundance because people were afraid they’d be at risk for HIV. One of her personal goals is to confront the resistance she sees. She says people don’t want to talk about HIV, and she wants to change that. She hasn’t seen a lot of First Nations people disclosing their status publicly, so she wants to lead by opening up the conversation.

    Mary covered clinical aspects of HIV care: the differences in diagnosis, treatment and relationships. Women are often diagnosed when they are much sicker than men, and can have nastier side effects to HIV drugs. I liked that Mary talked about the important connection between a woman and her doctor. She said that she sees some women who want to go off HIV treatments and seek out spiritual or alternative healing. While Mary’s training as a doctor makes her think it’s not the best care available, it’s important to honour the therapeutic relationship between herself and her patients so the door to care remains open.

    One of the questions Mary was asked was about transmission risks for serodiscordant couples. When a couple approaches her about getting pregnant and asks if they can try to conceive naturally, Mary says there isn’t one answer for all. Some couples are comfortable forgoing condoms if the viral load of the positive partner is undetectable. Some want to time it perfectly and do it naturally, others don’t want to take any risks. Everyone has different risk tolerance.

    Alana finished up the webinar talking about the “us and them” that stigma brings: “We all have HIV status whether we’re negative or positive.”  If I think about a key word to sum up what Alana and Mary said, it would be together. Together a community can face the fears of HIV and work against stigma. Together couples can make decisions about risk and confidence. Together a doctor and woman can talk about the best individual treatment and care. It’s about working together for respect.


    Photo: iStock

    Students Connect HIV with Community

    April 4th, 2014

    by Erin Seatter | @erinlynds

    Post-secondary students spend a lot of time in lectures, listening to professors and jotting down notes, and when they’re not in the classroom they’re holed up somewhere with their readings, scanning text with a highlighter poised to mark the learned words of history’s intellectuals. (Of course, not all students abide by this generalization I’ve put before us, but stick with it for now.)

    When dealing with a topic that encompasses social complexities and impacts that statistics and journal articles alone cannot convey, students may need another avenue for learning that leads them closer to the heart of the issue.

    HIV is one such topic that is hard to really grasp or feel without getting out into the places where communities have developed around it. Professor Cari Miller, who teaches at Simon Fraser University, knows that community connection makes a huge difference to learning. And that’s why she has students in a fourth-year course entitled The Global HIV/AIDS Epidemic contact a local organization engaged in providing HIV-related support.

    Getting to talk with people in the organization, in the community, about the work they do and its significance helps bring realities to life for the students. In turn, the students produce an art project based on their understanding of the organization’s work.

    This semester students visited AIDS Vancouver, Maclaren Housing, Pivot Legal, YouthCO, Vancouver Native Health, VANDU, Insite, and Friends For Life. The depth of their learning as a result of these connections was impressive.

    Two student groups focused on Positive Women’s Network. Each group of approximately eight students visited PWN; learned about the organization’s history, values, and programming; and then delivered an incredible presentation illustrating their understanding of the necessity of women-specific HIV services. In fact, one student remarked during her presentation that she was surprised that more women’s HIV organizations didn’t exist in Canada.

    Here are some pics of the student projects to give you a taste. (Excuse the poor photography executed via my phone.)



    Half of the group, with enough flowers for everyone. The flower pots display cards explaining the impact on women of gender roles, stigma, biological susceptibility to HIV, and the relationship between violence and HIV.



    Four paintings represent what the students see in PWN: healing, courage, support, and equality. Taking her cue from the second paining, one brave student stands by the project.