May 27th, 2016
Last week was our annual SpringBoard conference. I love SpringBoard; it’s a day to connect with people from many different communities and to hear new and developing info from research, health care and social services.
After a welcome from Elder Roberta Price acknowledging our place on the unceded traditional territory of the Squamish, Musqueam and Tsleil-Waututh First Nations, we turned our focus to the intersection of HIV and hepatitis C. As one presenter put it, this is an increasingly pressured partnership. Focusing on both blood borne illnesses together makes sense in some ways, but they are different health challenges with different treatment goals and service needs. Most obviously, hepatitis C can be cured; HIV can be managed but not cured. Both can be transmitted through shared needles, injection equipment or sex; but hepatitis C is far more infectious than HIV. What women need in terms of support for a course of hep C treatment may be very different than what a woman needs for a lifelong commitment of HIV treatment.
Both viruses are stigmatized, and health care systems don’t always successfully reach the people who could most need help. The day gave us chances to talk about barriers to information, care and treatment. People may feel they are just a number in a system that doesn’t really take into account the emotional factors of health as well as the physical. The impact of colonization and the western model of care can make people feel unsafe and alienated; histories of violence or abuse can make medical appointments frightening and traumatic.
Two overview presentations led us into the day. Dr. Alexandra King highlighted how HIV and hepatitis C have disproportionately impacted Indigenous peoples in Canada, particularly women. The Truth and Reconciliation Commission reports and the federal government’s pledge to address the recommendations are hopefully going to shift the health realities that put Aboriginal people at risk. Gina McGowan walked us through the ongoing renewal of Healthy Pathways Forward, the BC Ministry of Health’s hepatitis strategy.
Anne Genovy, who is living with HIV and had successful hepatitis C treatment, co-presented with Dr. Neora Pick from BC Women’s Oak Tree Clinic. Dr. Pick reflected on the recent integration of hepatitis care into HIV care at the clinic, showing the impacts on health that both have on the other. Anne said how important it is to have women-centred services like Oak Tree and Positive Women’s Network. Another woman with HIV who attended noted on her evaluation that Oak Tree’s care is excellent.
Deb Schmitz (Pacific Hepatitis C Network) and Erica Thompson (The Warm Zone) presented on the stigma of hepatitis C for women. Deb talked about the assumption of drug use that follows women with hepatitis C, including those who may never have used at all. Erica provided stories of women living with hep C and the challenges they have to face. Source of infection should not affect quality of care, she rightly said. She stressed the importance of peer to peer support both in understanding HCV and going through treatment.
The importance of peer support was echoed by Claudette Cardinal, a peer research associate with CHIWOS, a national research project on sexual health and access to HIV services. Claudette said that we must support individual readiness for treatment, and not pressure people to start before they are ready. She shared her story of learning her HIV status and her journey to being a peer researcher. Co-presenter Sally brought CHIWOS research findings so far. Women who have been in jail have higher rates of HIV; 30% of their research participants nationally have ever been in jail and have a 4- fold chance of HIV and HCV coinfection.
It was a fantastic day to learn, challenge, and inspire one another to further work to destigmatize both HIV and HCV and improve care and services to women. Many thanks to AbbVie, our exclusive pharmaceutical sponsor of the event for helping us make this event a reality.