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Only 50% of people with HIV seek treatment and here’s why, says AIDS council

AFP pic

KUALA LUMPUR: Approximately 100,000 Malaysians are affected by HIV/AIDS but almost half of them fail to seek treatment due to shame and fear of social stigma despite government initiatives to provide free medication, according to an AIDS body under the health ministry.

The Malaysian AIDS Council (MAC) said some were also in denial or resigned to what they believed to be fate.

“A lot of them probably think they’re going to die anyway, so they don’t bother. Many of them are drug users who might not have stable jobs, and some of them are homeless.

“When you put all the factors together, that’s where you get the 50% of those who don’t get treatment,” MAC president Bakhtiar Talhah told FMT.

Although frontline treatment for HIV, which costs about RM400 a month, is given for free at government hospitals, Bakhtiar said MAC often came across people who refused to seek treatment at the closest medical centre. Instead, he said, they preferred to travel to hospitals further away to avoid running into people they knew.

“There’s still a lot of stigma and discrimination that people with HIV in Malaysia face.”

There are currently some 3,300 reported cases of HIV infections a year, down from 6,000 to 7,000 a decade ago.

The majority of the 3,300 cases were sexually transmitted, although Bakhtiar said the spread of HIV in Malaysia was initially driven by drug use.

“Sex was never the main factor in Malaysia,” he said. “We had a very unique case of the HIV pandemic.”

With initiatives such as needle exchange programmes, which provide drug addicts with clean needles, the number of cases involving HIV infection through needle-sharing dropped by 90%, he said.

Bakhtiar said through MAC’s work on the ground, it had discovered that the urban population was generally more open to HIV/AIDS-related issues than those in rural areas.

“But at the same time, we have been surprised by the acceptance of certain initiatives by those in rural areas,” he added.

“For example, drug use is probably more rampant in rural areas, plantations and fishing communities. But we found that because the family or community lanes are very strong in those areas, they actually support our initiatives.”

Asean deputy secretary-general for the Asean Socio-Cultural Community Kung Phoak meanwhile told FMT he was optimistic about the overall HIV rates in the region.

He said there had been great progress in the area and a drop in the number of people affected by HIV/AIDS.

Bakhtiar, however, was less confident.

“If you’re looking at absolute numbers, we have been able to get the number of infections down,” he said.

“But compared to what other regions have done and how they have performed, we are way behind.”

He told FMT that Asia was in fact the worst performing region in this matter, below Latin America and Africa.

“We have to ask why. What is it that they are doing which we are not? In that sense, there’s still so much for us to do.”

Author: Ainaa Aiman


Transgender women with HIV struggle to get competent healthcare in South Florida

Arianna Lint, left, is the executive director of a namesake organization that aids transgender people. She and Sophia Kass, an advocate with the Transgender Law Center, were part of a panel in South Beach discussing the Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday.
Arianna Lint, left, is the executive director of a namesake organization that aids transgender people. She and Sophia Kass, an advocate with the Transgender Law Center, were part of a panel in South Beach discussing the Human Rights Watch report released Tuesday. Joey Flechas

Imagine being identified by the wrong gender in the lobby of your own doctor’s office, or having trouble finding a job, or being rejected by your own family, because you are a transgender person.

Doctors should be recommending HIV preventive pills, experts say

Experts believe doctors should take extra steps to help patients avoid HIV, according to a new report.

The U.S. Preventive Services Task Force recently drafted a new set of recommendations that would for the first time urge doctors to offer a daily prophylactic pill to patients at risk of contracting human immunodeficiency virus.

They propose a drug called pre-exposure prophylaxis or PrEP, which can help stop the spread of HIV. It can reduce the risk of catching HIV by up to 92 percent if used consistently, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

“The evidence is clear: when taken as prescribed, PrEP is highly effective at preventing H.I.V.,” Seth Landefeld, a USPSTF member, said in a statement. “To make a difference in the lives of people at high risk for HIV, clinicians need to identify patients who would benefit and offer them PrEP.”

The USPSTF also said doctors should be screening all patients, aged 15 to 65, for H.I.V., a recommendation first announced in 2013.

“About 40,000 people are diagnosed with H.I.V. each year. This is why the Task Force, once again, calls for universal screening for H.I.V. in adolescents and adults ages 15 to 65 years and in all pregnant women,” USPSTF member John Epling added. “People deserve to know their HIV status so, if needed, they can start treatment early and live long, healthy lives.”

Here are the patients at high risk of developing HIV, who should be prescribed PrEP, according to the panel:

  • Anyone without H.I.V. who has an H.I.V.-positive sex partner
  • Gay, bisexual or transgender men who have had any recent sexually transmitted infection
  • Gay and bisexual men who do not use condoms consistently
  • Heterosexual or transgender women who do not consistently use condoms with a high-risk sex partner, such as a bisexual man or someone who injects drugs
  • Women who have had a recent STI
  • Injecting drug users who share equipment

They acknowledged PrEP does have side effects, such as kidney problems and nausea, but they said the benefits of the drug outweigh the harms.

The experts also noted that PrEP helps prevent HIV but not other sexually transmitted infections. They said people who take PrEP should still use condoms and practice healthy habits that reduce the risk of other sexually transmitted infections.

Want to know more? Take a look at the full assessment here.

Author: Najja Parker


New Research Suggests Optimism for HIV/AIDS

A new model shows a possible end to the HIV/AIDS pandemic in parts of Africa. How can models help lead to eradication — and what are the limits?

FOR A SCIENTIST who studies the spread of HIV/AIDS — one of the worst pandemics on record — Brian Williams is surprisingly optimistic. To date, AIDS, the immunodeficiency syndrome caused by the virus HIV, has killed more than 35 million people worldwide. But Williams, co-founder of the South African Center for Epidemiological Modelling and Analysis (SACEMA), thinks we are close to effectively wiping out AIDS in eastern and southern Africa. This is despite the fact that there are more people living with HIV there than anywhere else in the world.

“We can certainly end AIDS,” he adds. “It is a perfectly controllable disease, let me say.”

In August, Williams and Reuben Granich, an independent public health consultant who has worked on HIV control for more than two decades, published preliminary work that projects the continuing decline of HIV cases in many African countries over the coming years. By 2030, if trends in the use of HIV/AIDS treatments hold, the rate of infection might fall to a key threshold of one in 1,000 people in some of the worst-affected nations. That threshold would, in theory, stop the disease’s spread, Williams says.

“We can certainly end AIDS,” he adds. “It is a perfectly controllable disease, let me say.”

That’s a bold statement, and it’s based on the projections of computer models that look at the interplay between HIV infections and treatments. The models give researchers a target to hit, which is “a great thing to do because it causes us to think, ‘How do we reduce infections?’” says Anna Bershteyn, a senior research manager at the Institute for Disease Modeling. But Bershteyn and other experts are not convinced a one-in-1000 threshold means the epidemic will fade away.

That’s the thing about models: Each offers a slightly different view of the world and none can perfectly predict the future. But for HIV/AIDS, two factors may prove Williams and Granich right. First, access to antiretroviral therapy (ART), a treatment for HIV/AIDS, has greatly improved in parts of Africa. Second, while epidemiological models are nothing new, they are increasingly guiding strategies to curb HIV/AIDS and helping to steer future research and policy.

By looking at disease prevalence and ART availability, the new modeling analysis gives a broad picture of how close we might be to tackling the pandemic. And the models point to optimism.

AIDS REMAINS A troubling pandemic. Last year alone, UNAIDS, the United Nations-sponsored organization which tracks global HIV prevalence and treatment coverage, tallied roughly one million deaths. UNAIDS also says that nearly 37 million people live with HIV worldwide, mostly in developing countries where accurate information about HIV, testing facilities, and treatment may not be readily available. And in some regions — including Eastern Europe, Central Asia, and parts of the U.S. — HIV is on the rise.

That’s the thing about models: Each offers a slightly different view of the world and none can perfectly predict the future.

Despite these numbers, the global rate of new infections each year has been falling — down 16 percent among adults and 35 percent among children since 2010. In particular, HIV infection rates are decreasing in much of Africa, Western Europe, and the Asia Pacific region. More people also have access to ART than ever before.

Models can use all these data to help show possible outcomes for the disease, says Kate Mitchell, an epidemiologist at Imperial College London. To build a specific HIV model, for example, researchers could look at regional data on how often people have unprotected sex, the uptake of testing and treatment, and the current number of known infections.

“What we’re often trying to do is predict into the future,” Mitchell says, by asking: “What would happen if we keep doing pretty much what we’re doing now? What would happen if we increase testing or treatment? What would happen if people’s behavior changed in a particular way?”

The new modeling by Williams and Granich zooms in on a few key African regions, pulling data on the current prevalence of HIV as well as local policies. Specifically, they look at the availability of ART and whether the drug can help end AIDS in the regions (fully eradicating HIV is another matter, as the virus can persist for many years in someone who has it). While ART isn’t a cure, it can stave off AIDS. The drugs can also make HIV undetectablein an infected person and prevent them from transmitting the virus to others.

In nations with solid access to ART, such as Kenya, Tanzania, and Uganda, Williams and Granich think HIV infections can be brought to that key threshold — one case in every 1,000 people — by 2020. Southern African countries that have had lower ART access might expect to reach the same point by 2030. This means fewer people would die from AIDS in Africa and HIV would not be transmitted so easily, so long as people with infections continue taking the drugs. And if southern African countries increase access to ART, there will be tangible benefits: Many thousands, if not millions, of lives might be saved.

In an earlier model, published in 2009, Williams, Granich, and others projected an outcome that never happened: meeting the one-in-1000 threshold by 2016. In this model, they looked at the same parameters — HIV prevalence and ART availability — but expanded it across the world, rather than focusing on smaller regions. They also assumed a hypothetical strategy with wider distribution of ART than actually happened. Other researchers called the work “blue skies thinking,” and while the “precise predictions were very optimistic,” says Mitchell, the model helped change “people’s opinions about what we could do going forward.”

The new analysis is “carefully grounded in data,” adds Mitchell, who was not part of the research team. What’s new about the latest effort is that it focuses on key nations in Africa where the availability of ART has improved and where the cost has come down. The researchers also compared the model projections to the actual rate of new infections and found they were largely in agreement.

But the new model still relies on an optimistic assumption: the expanding provision of ART. For some regions, this will be possible. In eastern Africa, many countries are already at the one-in-1000 mark or on track to meet it. South Africa has offered ART to all people with HIV since 2016 and now has more patients on ART than any other country. But such interventions cost money, and other southern African nations, such as Swaziland, have limited budgets and have been relatively slow in tackling HIV/AIDS.

Still, as with the 2009 paper, the new model could push policy in a positive direction. According to Williams and Granich, the global annual cost of HIV/AIDS treatment is approximately $40 billion. If public health officials can get more people on ART, keep the remaining 35 million HIV-positive individuals on the drugs, and get the cost of those drugs to $100 per person per year worldwide, that cost would drop to $3.5 billion.

That’s all very well, says Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) in the U.S., but he points out that models can only ever be as good as the assumptions or data one puts into them. While models can inform decision-making, Fauci adds, public health agencies must also take a pragmatic approach — and pull even more data from the ground.

DESPITE THE LIMITATIONS, some models do reflect reality — and influence policy. Models have, for instance, helped improve guidelines on ART distribution — policies that will be key in realizing the projections made by Williams and Granich. In 2014, Mitchell co-authored a major study that looked at what might happen if a broader group of HIV patients in South Africa, Zambia, India, and Vietnam had access to ART as a result of relaxing guidelines for initiating treatment.

As their disease progresses, people with HIV have lower numbers of certain types of white blood cells that are essential to the human immune system and the exact count can help gauge the severity of their infection. Previously, guidelines from the World Health Organization (WHO) said only people with HIV who had a white blood cell count of 350 or lower should have access to ART. Mitchell and her colleagues modeled the effects of raising the threshold to 500 or removing it altogether. They found that the shifts were both cost-effective and provided significant health benefits. The WHO now recommends that countries offer ART to all people with HIV, regardless of their white blood cell count.

Nearly 37 million people live with HIV worldwide, mostly in developing countries.

Andrew Phillips, an epidemiologist at University College London, says the paper influenced the policy. “It would certainly not be right to suggest that modeling has been the only reason for introduction of these policies,” he says. “But I think it has been one essential element.”

In some cases, data can provide unexpected insights into a new strategy. Bershteyn, of the Institute for Disease Modeling, and her colleagues, modeled the policy of offering ART to everyone who is HIV positive, regardless of their white blood cell count. The model showed that even if you discount the direct medical benefit of ART, which raises white blood cell counts, it was still better to offer the drugs to everyone because it meant more people would come to take HIV tests and engage with health clinics. That alone changed behavior so that more people got treatment, says Bershteyn, which “was the crucial thing.”

Insights like that can drive policymakers to take models seriously and may even help convince politicians to address epidemics such as HIV, says Rachel Baggaley, coordinator of HIV testing and prevention at the WHO.

Modeling can also allow recommendations to be neatly targeted to specific places. Take Russia, where the HIV epidemic is growing. The rate of new infections rises between 10 and 15 percent every year. Starting in 2010, a main route for transmission — injection drug use — got worse after the number of needle exchanges in the country fell from 80 to just 10 due to funding cuts. A study published in The Lancetin July used a model to explore the dynamics of HIV in Omsk, Russia. The authors found that by scaling up needle exchange programs and ART recruitment, among other things, the rate of new HIV infections in the city could be halved within a decade.

Not all of the insights gleaned by modelers get to influence policy. Baggaley points out that governments are not always willing to engage with the problem regardless of well-researched predictions. Even when the will is there, it takes a long time, and often millions of dollars, to put new recommendations into practice. Still, modeling analyses like the new one from Williams and Granich may show a way to end one of the most persistent pandemics in history.

New Research Suggests Optimism for HIV/AIDS

Aspirin could reduce HIV infections in women

With nearly two million new infections and one million associated deaths each year, the HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) pandemic is alive and well.

Thirty-seven million people are now living with HIV, more than half of whom are women.

Today, most HIV transmission occurs through sex.

 Fortunately, you can protect yourself and others by keeping HIV away (abstinence, condom use, circumcision) or by inactivating HIV (microbicide gels or a combination of prophylactic anti-HIV drugs such as PrEP).

However, these methods are not always feasible for many and can come with stigma.

Imagine though, if instead of targeting the virus, we could make people less susceptible to HIV and address the needs of communities by using a relatively safe, affordable and globally accessible drug with no associated stigma.

This is where Aspirin comes in.

It may sound like a fairy tale, but results from our lab’s pilot study published last month suggest it may be true. Plus, there’s good science behind the explanation.

Aspirin reduced HIV ‘target cells’

The idea comes from a partnership with a community of women in Nairobi, Kenya over more than 30 years.

This relationship has led to establishment of a clinic which provides almost 50,000 sex workers with disease prevention and treatment resources, and is often referred to by the WHO and UNAIDS as a model of best practices.

Remarkably, many of these women are naturally resistant to HIV, at least in part because they have very little inflammation in their blood and genital tract.

This is important because inflammation can increase HIV infection by 1) recruiting immune cells to the site of inflammation, including the cells that HIV loves to infect—so-called HIV “target cells” and 2) activating these HIV target cells, which increases their susceptibility to viral infection and enhances HIV’s ability to replicate within them.

The major question posed by our study was this: as an anti-inflammatory drug, could Aspirin reduce the number of HIV target cells and make them less activated?

To answer this question, our lab quantified HIV target cells in the blood and vagina of 37 Kenyan women before and after taking Aspirin for up to six weeks.

The results, published in the Journal of the International AIDS Society, show that aspirin reduced the frequency of vaginal HIV target cells by approximately 35 per cent and made them less activated.

As a bonus, Aspirin seemed to increase the structural integrity of the skin in the vagina, which could also prevent HIV infection by further restricting HIV’s access to more target cells in the blood.

We also tried another anti-inflammatory drug called hydroxychloroquine (HCQ).

HCQ is less well known than Aspirin, but used to be a popular treatment for malaria and is now used to treat autoimmune diseases such as rheumatoid arthritis.

HCQ also seemed to reduce inflammation in the vagina, but in a slightly different manner.

First drug to target the host

PrEP (a daily treatment of anti-HIV drugs used for prevention) is often used in the form of a vaginal gel, but does not work for women who have genital inflammation.

The next step will be a clinical trial testing whether Aspirin can reduce inflammation in women using PrEP and thereby reduce the number of HIV infections in women at high risk for HIV, such as female sex workers.

This population has been asking about future research plans focusing on using Aspirin to prevent HIV.

If we can demonstrate this, Aspirin would be the first drug that targets the host, rather than the virus, to prevent HIV.

By acting on the host rather than the virus, Aspirin is not prone to generate HIV resistance, since there is no selective pressure for HIV to evolve around.

We are not yet at the stage where Aspirin can be recommended for preventing HIV, but the potential for another tool in our belt against a virus that has killed 35 million people (almost the population of Canada), can only be good news.

Especially one as safe, affordable, accessible and non-stigmatizing as Aspirin.

Written by Colin Graydon PhD Candidate in Medical Microbiology, University of Manitoba; Monika Kowatsch PhD Student in Medical Microbiology, University of Manitoba

Source: The Conversation.

Aspirin could reduce HIV infections in women

Thousands of Canadians are living with HIV, and they don’t even know it

More testing, and better access to it, are keys to fighting Canada’s hidden HIV epidemic


More than 9,000 Canadians are estimated to be living with undiagnosed HIV, and this is where most new infections originate, writes Laurie Edmiston. – ake1150sb , Getty Images/iStockphoto

Earlier this year, I witnessed a profound historic moment at the International AIDS Conference in Amsterdam. Dr. Alison Rodger, a leading HIV researcher in the United Kingdom, presented the final results from a study of couples with one HIV-positive and one HIV-negative partner. After eight years of the study, she reported, there were zero cases of HIV transmission from one partner to the other — thanks to the prevention benefits of modern HIV medications.

The evidence has been mounting for years. Several large clinical trials have confirmed that HIV treatment can suppress the virus so successfully that sexual transmission doesn’t occur. Three-quarters of Canadians diagnosed with HIV have already achieved this level of viral suppression, and this number could grow even further by linking people to treatment and care. The reality is that most Canadians who are living with HIV today can’t pass the virus on to their sexual partners.

So if most Canadians living with HIV can’t pass it on, why are there still more than 2,000 new infections in our country every year? Research tells us that most HIV transmissions originate from people who think they are HIV-negative but have recently contracted the virus — the undiagnosed. There are a few reasons for this.

First, when someone acquires HIV the virus is circulating through the body at its highest levels, making them more likely to pass it on. Second, a person who has been diagnosed is more likely to take measures to prevent passing it on to their partners. And finally, we now know that an HIV-positive person on effective treatment does not transmit the virus sexually.

More than 9,000 Canadians are estimated to be living with undiagnosed HIV, and this is where most new infections originate. To effectively respond to this hidden HIV epidemic, we must focus our efforts on expanding access to testing.

Yet across the country, barriers remain. Many people have never been tested for HIV, or don’t test as often as they should. Sometimes this is because they don’t perceive themselves to be at risk, sometimes it is because of the stigma around HIV, and sometimes it is because testing clinics are difficult to access.

Some places in Canada and abroad have shown us how we can do better. In British Columbia, an online service allows people to order routine HIV tests online and submit samples directly to a lab, bypassing clinic lineups. In Saskatchewan, routine HIV testing is offered for all teenagers and adults every five years through both primary and emergency health care. Dried blood spot testing has been introduced in some First Nations to overcome some of the barriers to drawing blood and transporting samples from rural and remote locations. In the United Kingdom, free HIV self-testing kits can be delivered to your mailbox, and many regions and countries have employed community educators to offer HIV tests to their peers, free of stigma and judgment. These initiatives have only been possible with the support and funding of governments committed to ending their respective HIV epidemics.

We have seen shining examples from communities across the country and around the world making great strides to reach the undiagnosed. Yet at a national level, Canada is falling behind other countries in the adoption of these approaches, and this has meant slow progress in reaching the undiagnosed — and a greater likelihood of new infections continuing unabated.

This World AIDS Day, I urge governments and leaders to take their calls for awareness one step further and turn them into action. Let’s do more than encourage testing. Let’s make it possible.

Laurie Edmiston is executive director of CATIE, Canada’s source for HIV and hepatitis C information.

Author: Laurie Edmiston


For 30 years ARCH has offered HIV/AIDS services in Guelph – yet the stigma remains

The stigma is real. The stigma is quite real in Guelph, say activists
red scarf AdobeStock

Stock image

In 1986 a group of community activists and leaders came together to recognize the impact of HIV and AIDS in Guelph.

It was a time when governments, health care providers, and communities at large were dismissing the significance of this epidemic and were relegating it to a disease that affected populations on the margins: gay men, sex workers, those who injected drugs, and others deemed “unsavoury” by society. In 1989 the activism of a small group of people for those living with and affected by HIV and AIDS was formalized into a meaningful response to a dire situation.

The AIDS Committee of Guelph was formed.

Thirty years later substantial changes have been achieved. The AIDS Committee of Guelph is now called ARCH (HIV/AIDS Resources and Community Health). Individuals living with HIV are living long and healthy lives with the development of new medications.

Research on HIV transmission has determined that those with undetectable viral loads that continue with regular treatment will not transmit HIV (detailed in the U=U campaign).

The revolution of daily doses of pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) has introduced another mechanism to reduce the potential of HIV transmission. Prominent members of society and the media have come out as HIV positive to promote greater visibility and acceptance.

In spite of our progress, the social stigma related to HIV is still an obstacle to overcome in our community. ARCH is on the frontline and we have enough stories of experienced stigma to fill a book.

Members of our community have been denied housing, jobs, and access to proper healthcare services based on their HIV status.

Individuals are using HIV as a punch line to their jokes or part of their homophobic, transphobic, and racist insults thrown in the community.

Online trolls make disparaging comments about HIV being what folks deserve for engaging in different behaviours.

Critics of the overdose prevention site and deposit boxes for sharps use stigmatizing comments about HIV to attack these lifesaving and community enhancing resources.

During the process of ARCH looking for a new location for our offices and clinic this past year, we were met with stigma from numerous landlords and properties in Guelph. You see, stigma doesn’t always come in traditional forms in our community, nor is it only limited to interpersonal attacks.

Stigma comes in the shape of ambiguously masked actions and phrases: you aren’t a good fit for us, we’re looking for a different type of clientele, we’re trying to build a certain culture in our space, we’ve thought about it and we want to move in another direction.

We would often be met with initial enthusiasm at the prospect of wanting to rent out a vacant space in Guelph, only to be turned down for one of the previously noted reasons, or in more than one occasion to have a landlord refuse to communicate any more with us after learning the specifics of the populations we work with and the health services we offer.

Our realtor was shocked to witness this; for ARCH, we’ve experienced and known this stigma since the beginning of the epidemic. The stigma is not new, but the effects are just as damaging.

ARCH found an incredible location at 77 Westmount for our office and clinic, with a property that values the health provision we do in Guelph. We encourage the community to visit our space, see the different services we offer, and recognize that the work we do is not dirty, dangerous, or unsavoury.

The populations we serve are at the heart of Guelph, and our work is centred on engaging everyone with dignity and respect.

In living our values ARCH works to fight stigma each and every day. But we can’t do this alone. If we want to push back against the stigma, if we want to change our community for the better, we need your involvement. Here are a few ways that you can help:

  1. If you see or hear stigma, say something. Stigma thrives in the silence of good-hearted people who don’t speak up and allow it to happen.
  2. Participate in the Red Scarf Project. Wear a red scarf in the colder months as a demonstration of solidarity and allyship that we are fighting to reduce HIV stigma in our communities.
  3. Attend events during AIDS Awareness Week. From November 24th to December 1st ARCH is hosting events in the community to educate, entertain, and memorialize (details can be found at
  4. Get involved with ARCH. Fighting stigma is an all year round event, and ARCH requires dedicated volunteers to help us promote sexual health, anti-oppressive community practices, and advance the fight for human rights and dignity.
  5. Donate to ARCH’s $30 for 30 years fund, where your money will go to support services that fight stigma, promote individual and community health, and enhance access to safer spaces for marginalized members in our communities.

It is easy to think of HIV/AIDS as a historical detail, an illness of the past, something that affects other communities or other regions of the globe. But we cannot lose sight of the effects and needs in our own community.

The impact of stigma is real, it is deep, and it is damaging to all of us. There are issues here in Guelph that require community action and local investment of time and money. We need your help. We need you.

How will you take action? How will you help enact change? How will you help us end stigma?

Below is a schedule of the events that are taking place during AIDS Awareness Week from November 24th to December 1st 2018:

Saturday, Nov. 24 

Red Scarf Project Pop-Up – Old Quebec Street Mall from 12 – 3 p.m.

Show your support of those affected by HIV and AIDS in our community by wearing a red scarf during the month of December. Stop by our pop-up to pick up your free scarf or to drop off donations for the Red Scarf project.

Anonymous Rapid HIV Testing – Second floor of 10C (42 Carden Street) from 6 – 8 p.m.

Get tested as this sex-positive and LGBT2QI+ friendly event. Learn more about sexual health and prevention options while you get your results in only 20 minutes!

A Night of Red: Global Queers – Fourth floor gallery of 10C (42 Carden Street) from 7 – 11 p.m.

Join us for our annual ‘Arts and Culture’ evening where we will seek to expand perspectives of HIV and LGBT2QI+ issues by learning about them through a global lens.

Sunday Nov. 25 

Free Disclosure Workshop – Second floor of 10C (42 Carden Street) from 12 – 3 p.m.

Disclosure can be complex and difficult process. Join us for this workshop to learn tricks and strategies for having these tough conversations.

Sex Bingo – NV Lounge (16 Wyndham Street North) from 7 – 10 p.m.

Join us for a night of fun and laughs. There will be lots of sexy prizes available!

Wednesday, Nov. 28 

Free LGBT2QI+ Mental Health Workshop – Second floor shared space of 10C (42 Carden Street) from 9 to 11:30 a.m.

This workshop for service providers and allies will give you the skills to better support and build resilience for LGBT2QI+ people in your lives.

Saturday, Dec. 1 

World AIDS Day Vigil – St. Andrew’s Church (161 Norfolk Street) from 6:30 to 8 p.m.

Join us for night of remembrance, followed by a potluck, in honour of our loved ones who have passed away from AIDS. All people who are living with HIV, friends, families, and allies are welcome!


Province funding homes specifically for Indigenous British Columbians for the first time



The B.C. government is planning on building more than 1,100 affordable homes for Indigenous peoples in 26 communities across the province.

Housing Minister Selina Robinson unveiled the first set of homes selected through the Indigenous Housing Fund Saturday afternoon, which includes nearly 780 off-reserve homes, and close to 370 homes on-reserve.

The commitment makes British Columbia the first province in Canada to invest provincial housing funds into on-reserve housing.

“We are behind right across the province, that is important to remember. But Indigenous people are absolutely over-represented in our homeless population which is a sad indication of how badly homes are lacking,” said Robinson. “I have heard stories of overcrowding of housing on-reserve and the housing crisis is affecting those most marginalized.

“This is our government saying we need to act.”

The province announced in July that it was looking for communities to partner with. Robinson unveiled $7.8 million to the Katzie First Nation Housing Society in Pitt Meadows on Saturday. The funding will be enough to build 39 homes.

The commitment to Indigenous housing is part of a $7-billion plan to find housing province-wide over the next 10 years. The government decided to focus specifically on First Nations communities because there has been a long term trend of young people leaving reserve communities in part because of a lack of housing.

“You want the younger generation to stay in community, but if there is no housing they have to leave,” said Robinson. “And they often leave, before they are ready to leave. They often end up in urban centres where they don’t have families and don’t have supports.”

The funding is part of the provincial government’s “focus on building a true and lasting vision of reconciliation” and is part of more $250 million allocated over the next three years, in the areas of affordable housing, language revitalization, child care, mental health and addictions, poverty reduction, improved access to justice, skills training, emergency management and a revitalized environmental assessment process.

“We have never seen such a commitment from a provincial government for on-reserve housing investments,” British Columbia Assembly of First Nations Regional Chief Terry Teegee said in July. “First Nations in B.C. seek to improve a major gap in housing needs. This is an important step for building stronger First Nations communities.”

The NDP government has also funded a Women’s Transition Housing Fund, with $734 million over 10 years to build and operate 1,500 new units of housing including transition houses, safe homes, second-stage and long-term housing.

Robinson says the province is focusing on putting housing where people can also access additional support.

“We philosophically believe as a society that people should be able to get a home, to have access to a home, in a place where they have social supports,” said Robinson. “In a place where they have a life, where they have a history. Reserves are a place where people have a history, have a life.”

Province-wide projects


Cranbrook: $7.8 million to Aqanttanam Housing Society – 39 homes
Kanaka Bar: $4 million to Kanaka Bar Indian Band – 20 homes
Kelowna: $8.5 million to Ki-Low-Na Friendship Society – 42 homes
Merritt: $4.8 million to Upper Nicola Indian Band – 24 homes
Westbank: $3.4 million to Westbank First Nations for two projects – 17 homes
Windermere: $1 million to Akisqnuk First Nation – 6 homes


Prince George: $10 million to Aboriginal Housing Society – 50 homes
Prince Rupert: $12 million to Lax Kw’alaams WAAP Housing Society – 60 homes
Quesnel: $5.4 million to Dakelh and Quesnel Community Housing Society – 27 homes
Terrace: $9.6 million to M’akola Housing Society – 48 homes
Kitamaat Village: $7.5 million to M’akola Housing Society – 23 homes
Lax Kw’alaams: $4 million to Lax Kw’alaams WAAP Housing Society – 20 homes
Quesnel: $2 million to Lhtako Dene Nation – 10 homes
Skidegate: $4.8 million to Skidegate Band Council – 24 homes
Witset: $5.2 million to Witset First Nation – 26 homes


Hope: $9 million to Mameleawt Qweesome Housing Society – 45 homes
Surrey: $21.6 million to Kekinow Native Housing Society – 108 homes
Tsawwassen: $7.2 million to Tsawwassen First Nation – 36 homes
Coquitlam: $3.2 million to Kwikwetlem First Nation – 16 homes

Vancouver Coastal

Vancouver: $22.6 million to Vancouver Aboriginal Land Trust – 113 homes
Vancouver: $8.4 million to Aboriginal Mother Centre – 42 homes
Bella Bella: $1.2 million to Heiltsuk Tribal Council – 6 homes
Sechelt: $6.8 million to Shishalah First Nation – 34 homes
Vancouver: $14.8 million to Musqueam Indian Band – 74 homes

Vancouver Island

Colwood: $24.8 million to Vancouver Aboriginal Land Trust – 124 homes
Langford: $8 million to M’akola Housing Society – 40 homes
Port Hardy: $4.8 million to Gwa’sala-Nakwaxda’Xw Nations – 24 homes
Fort Rupert: $1.2 million to Kwakiutl First Nation – 6 homes

Philanthropy has a role to play in combatting Canada’s opioid crisis

Downtown Eastside residents have saved many lives by intervening to help their neighbours who've overdosed.
  • Downtown Eastside residents have saved many lives by intervening to help their neighbours who’ve overdosed.TRAVIS LUPICK


The obituary for Dan Sealey was heartbreaking. Described as a “brilliant, hilarious, happy kid”, he had a dream of becoming a physics teacher. But “mental health and addiction” struggles later in life led to his death from an accidental drug overdose.

These horror stories are occurring with shocking regularity in British Columbia. According to the most recent statistics from the B.C. Coroners Service, 128 people succumbed to illicit-drug overdoses in September. More than 100 overdose deaths a month has become the new normal.

It’s a vexing challenge confounding the health-care system.

Dr. Evan Wood, executive director of the British Columbia Centre on Substance Use (BCCSU), says a great deal more must be done nationally to promote awareness of evidence-based addiction care.

“The province still has a long way to go in terms of having a functioning system for substance-use care,” Wood told the Georgia Straight by phone. “That, in large part, is due to the lack of training for health-care providers.”

He credited Goldcorp Inc. for stepping up with a $3-million donation to the St. Paul’s Hospital Foundation and the UBC Division of AIDS that funded the BCCSU Addiction Medicine Fellowship.

With this—and through the generosity of other donors aligned with the Vancouver Foundation—87 fellows have graduated through a one-year fellowship program. Beyond that, more than 300 trainees, mostly medical students, have also been trained in addiction medicine for shorter periods.

“We also host rural physicians and health-care providers from other health authorities, coming and doing training,” Wood added. “It’s pretty impactful around the province.”

He said that, traditionally, addiction care was “an unwanted stepchild of the health-care system”, in part due to the stigma attached to people who use drugs. According to Wood, this societal stigma has also existed within health care because of a lack of adequately trained providers.

“Either people were turned away at the door at places like the emergency room or in health-care providers’ offices,” he noted.

This, in turn, has manifested itself in far less than optimal care for people who’ve also been criminalized because of their disease.

In recent years, he emphasized, the dedication of people keen to fight the stigma has been “slowly bringing” an impact to the health-care system.

In particular, he cited people who use drugs, families who are affected by drug use, and people making efforts to improve recovery services.

“Historically, given the criminalization of people who use drugs, policymakers are making decisions that affect the lives of people that aren’t even in the room to share their stories,” Wood said. “So we really benefit from philanthropic support to be able to bring the voices of drug users forward as well.”

Recently, in its magazine, the Vancouver Foundation stated that it has made almost $2 million available to help deal with the opioid crisis. Some of this money has gone to help fund frontline agencies, clinical trials, and public engagement.

The executive director of the B.C. Centre for Substance Use, Dr. Evan Wood, says B.C.-based foundations have provided funding to train health workers in addiction medicine.
The executive director of the B.C. Centre for Substance Use, Dr. Evan Wood, says B.C.-based foundations have provided funding to train health workers in addiction medicine.

Foundations can do more

One of the first calls for foundations to get involved in this issue came back in 2012.

Ann Barnum, senior program officer overseeing substance-use disorders for the Health Foundation of Greater Cincinnati, wrote a commentary headlined “What Foundations Can Do to Fight the Opiate Epidemic”.

She noted that between 2003 and 2012, there were more overdose deaths involving opioid analgesics than heroin and cocaine combined.

“For every unintentional overdose death related to an opioid analgesic, nine persons are admitted for substance abuse treatment, 35 visit emergency departments, 161 report drug abuse or dependence, and 461 report nonmedical uses of opioid analgesics,” Barnum wrote.

She suggested that foundations can play a major role in supporting grassroots prevention efforts by funding drug take-back programs and funding unused-medicine disposal units in hospitals and police stations. In addition, she pointed out that foundations can fund needle exchanges and community-based distribution of naloxone, which saves the lives of people who have overdosed.

“One of the most common health consequences of injection drug use is endocarditis, or inflammation of the inner lining of the heart chambers,” Barnum wrote. “One heart valve replacement costs at least $250,000, while an entire needle exchange program generally costs between $50,000 and $60,000 per year.”

Five years later, Alexa Eggleston of the Conrad N. Hilton Foundation and Tym Rourke of the New Hampshire Charitable Foundation wrote an article calling for a national philanthropic agenda to combat addiction.

They stated that “philanthropy stepped up” in response to the AIDS epidemic, leading to health-care innovations that gave people with HIV the potential to live a full life with what became a “chronic, manageable condition”.

“And that work paved the way for dramatic civil rights advances for people who are gay, lesbian, bisexual, and transgendered,” Eggleston and Rourke wrote. “We can do the same with addiction—but philanthropy must lean in further.”

Here in Vancouver, foundations are leaning in, with the St. Paul’s Hospital fundraising arm at the forefront.

“In addition to [examining] the impact of things that has direct relevance for patient care, there’s also innovative research being done with a view to creating critical social change in this area,” Wood said.

But with the holiday season approaching—and B.C.’s overdose death toll continuing to rise—he recognizes that much more can be be done in the future to address the wide-ranging health impacts linked to addiction.

“It’s just an area where historically, there hasn’t been the attention and focus,” Wood noted, “and that manifests as poor care for individuals.”

by: Charlie Smith 


‘We’ve made huge strides’: AIDS Vancouver celebrates its 35th anniversary

‘People are not literally dying around us as they were in early years,’ says executive director

AIDS Vancouver Ececutive Director Dr. Brian Chittock (right), pictured here with former mayor Gregor Robertson (left) at the opening of the new AIDS Vancouver building. The organization celebrates its 35th anniversary this year. (Submitted by Brian Chittock)

This year marks the 35th anniversary of AIDS Vancouver.

The organization opened its doors in 1983 and was Canada’s first AIDS service association, providing quality health care and support to people affected by HIV/AIDS in the Lower Mainland. It also provides public education and community-based research on the infection.

The group was created in 1982, after a group of six gay men got together one night for dinner in Vancouver to talk about the AIDS crisis, says Dr. Brian Chittock, executive director of AIDS Vancouver.

At that time, little was known about AIDS and why so many people were becoming infected. AIDS Vancouver was officially incorporated  Aug. 4, 1983.

“It was a pretty scary time … people were scared. Nobody knew what this thing was or how we were getting it and how to control it,” Chittock told The Early Edition host Stephen Quinn.

“We didn’t know how to deal with the situation. Nobody had gone through anything like this ever before. We were winging it.”

According to Dr. Brian Chittock, those on antiretroviral HIV treatment do not transfer the infection to their sexual partners. “It’s a much more manageable disease for most people today,” he says. (Getty Images)


While Chittock was not involved with AIDS Vancouver in the early days, he founded the HIV/AIDS Network of Edmonton Society shortly after AIDS Vancouver’s launch. He then co-founded the Montreal AIDS Committee in 1984.

“I just remember talking to some of the volunteers beside me who became infected and thinking, ‘Am I next?’ What’s going on? What can we do?’ And I had no answers.”

Stigma around AIDS continues to be a big issue for the organization. Chittock says they have never been able to deal with it effectively. But he says that prevention and treatment has advanced.

“People are not literally dying around us as they were in early years.”

Chittock says there are approximately 15 new infections in Vancouver every year, which is much lower than the early days of AIDS Vancouver. According to Chittock, Vancouver has one of the lowest rates of infection in Canada.

“It’s a much more manageable disease for most people today … we’ve made huge strides in treatment. Research is unbelievable on HIV in Canada … and there is talk of a cure, which will be amazing.”


Author: Laura Sciarpelletti