Women who have HIV more likely to face gender-based violence, report shows

Exclusive: ‘When you live in violence, you do not really realise it. But in this kind of life, the last of your worries is HIV and how to protect yourself’


Women attending an HIV awareness programme in Agadir, Morocco

Women attending an HIV awareness programme in Agadir, Morocco ( UNAids )


Women who have HIV are more likely to experience gender-based violence, research has shown.

The report also found the problem went both ways – meaning women are also at increased risk of HIV due to the violence, cultural stigma and discrimination they endure.

The research, by the International HIV/Aids Alliance and seen exclusively by The Independent, looked at the link in the Middle East and North Africa.

The charity’s Luisa Orza described the correlation between gender-based violence and HIV as a “cyclical two-way dynamic”.

Researchers spoke to more than 250 women living with or at risk of HIV in Algeria, Egypt, Jordan, Lebanon, Morocco, Sudan and Tunisia – finding 92 per cent had experienced gender-based violence.

This is starkly higher than the World Health Organisation’s regional estimate of 36 per cent. Most women had experienced violence across a range of settings – including from intimate partners, family and neighbours, and there were high rates of sexual violence as well as child and forced marriage.

Women described not having a choice about when and who they have sex with and whether they use contraception.

Among the women who participated in the study, 41 per cent had experienced violence in health care settings. This figure climbed to 66 per cent among the women who were living with HIV.

“This took the form of being verbally abused, shouted at, humiliated, harassed and insulted by healthcare staff,” Ms Orza said.

She added: “And having their confidentiality violated … could provoke verbal and physical insults from other patients in the health facility, ostracism or people wanting to be treated in separate spaces. There were also poor standards of treatment or lack of attention from health workers, and denial of services – especially obstetric or maternal health services.”

She argued that women with HIV were more vulnerable to discrimination and violence than other women because the virus is still highly stigmatised across the world.

“It carries associations of sexual or social ‘transgression’, illness and death despite medical advances in the treatment of Aids and the suppression of the HIV virus,” she said. “Partly because – especially in contexts with so-called concentrated epidemics, where HIV primarily affects specific groups like sex workers and people who use drugs – these groups are already socially marginalised.”

She added women could face double or triple discrimination, for a combination of factors such as having HIV, being a sex worker, using drugs, being transgender, and being a migrant or refugee.

The research involved lesbian, bisexual and transgender women, female sex workers, women who use drugs and whose partners use drugs, migrant and refugee women, and disabled women.

She said the act of condom negotiation itself can prompt violence as it can be seen as either an implicit confession or accusation of infidelity – if it is not being proposed for contraceptive use.

Ms Orza said fear of disclosing HIV status and the potential for this to spark violence from a partner or other family members serves as a barrier for women accessing and adhering to treatment for it.

“When you live in violence, you do not really realise it,” said a woman from Algeria, who chose to remain anonymous.

“That is what gets me thinking, but in this kind of life, the last of your worries is HIV and how to protect yourself. When it comes and when you discover it, you are shocked and that is it. Then at some point, personally, I told myself that I deserved it.”

“We are living in a community where people perceive women as inferior human beings and want them to stay stuck in a corner forever,” said a woman from Egypt.

“At 18, my husband used to bring a mistress and sleep with her in front of me. When I asked for a divorce, my brother forced me to remarry to an older man,” added a woman from Lebanon.

Research from South Africa and Uganda demonstrates women who experience intimate partner violence are 55 per cent more likely to acquire HIV in their lifetimes.

Rita Wahab, of MENA Rosa, the first regional association dedicated to women with HIV in the Middle East and North Africa, which was also involved in the research, said: “Our advocates will move forward to decry the linkage between violence against women and HIV.

“Gender equality starts at home, grows in the society and blossoms in the juridical environment. The road is long, but we have taken the first steps.”

The latest research comes as The Independent launches AIDSfree – a Christmas charity appeal to raise funds for essential HIV testing and treatment around the world, in partnership with the Elton John AIDS Foundation.

The International HIV/Aids Alliance is a global partnership of national civil society organisations working to support responses to HIV.

Author: Maya Oppenheim


Alliance to receive federal HIV funding boost includes two Vancouver queer male health organizations

Two Vancouver-based health organizations are part of a national alliance that will receive increased federal funding to address HIV and sexually transmitted infections (STI) in Canada.

Prior to World AIDS Day (December 1) on November 29, federal Health Minister Ginette Petitpas announced that the Canadian government will provide $7.1 million over five years to the Advance Community Alliance, the Canadian community alliance for queer male health, through the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund.

The funding will support improved access to sexual-infection prevention, testing, and treatment, including better access to services and the promotion of new HIV prevention options.

The alliance includes two Vancouver organizations—Health Initiative for Men and the Community-Based Research Centre for Gay Men’s Health (CBRC), which has shifted to adopt a national mandate—in addition to MAX Ottawa, AIDS Committee of Toronto, and Montreal’s REZO.

“Gay, bisexual, trans, Two-Spirit, and queer men in Canada remain heavily impacted by HIV and other sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, as well as mental health issues including depression, problematic substance use, and suicide,” Advance Community Alliance director Michael Kwag stated in a news release. “Developing evidence-based, community-led interventions with stakeholders across the health care system is critical to reducing barriers to essential services for our communities, including HIV testing and treatment, pre-exposure prophylaxis, and mental health programs.”

In 2017, there were 2,402 new cases of HIV in Canada, with about half of those cases occurring among men who have sex with men. Other groups most affected by HIV and STIs include Indigenous peoples, drug users, and those released from correctional facilities.

On Thursday (December 6) amid Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, an event at the Vancouver Aboriginal Friendship Centre will address the launch of the second phase of the Prison Needle Exchange Program to be launched on January 1 in federal institutions.


Author: Craig Takeuchi 


Is Natural Long-Term HIV Suppression Possible for More Patients?

Typically, people with HIV must rely on antiretroviral therapy to keep their viral levels down. However, a tiny handful of people have a natural ability to keep their viral load low without medication. Investigators at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine recently published a paper highlighting their findings after studying 2 patients with HIV who have the rare ability to achieve viral suppression in the absence of antiretroviral therapy.

One patient, termed an “elite suppressor,” carries the genetic marker HLA-B*57. This gene allows him to maintain low viral levels without ever having taken antiretroviral therapy. The second patient, termed a “post-treatment controller,” did take antiretroviral therapy for several years but has not done so for the past decade and a half. He has no genetic markers that offer any natural protection against HIV, yet he too is able to keep his viral levels at an undetectable level. Both patients are middle-aged African-American men.

In the normal course of the disease, HIV invades immune cells called CD4+ T cells, where it replicates and eventually enters the bloodstream. Another type of immune cell, the CD8+ T cell, can kill off the infected CD4+ T cells if it’s early enough in the process; however, most CD8+ T cells are overpowered by the sheer volume of CD4+ T cells, and fail to stop the cells’ replication. As the cells replicate, they tend to mutate, meaning that HIV cells found in a single patient’s body today are likely to be different than HIV cells found in his or her body several years ago.

The investigators, however, made a different discovery when examining the HIV cells culled from the patients over a period of several years. After studying the virus isolated from the post-treatment controller in 2010 and again in 2017 (when the virus was tested 2 separate times, 6 months apart), the team found that the cells were nearly identical 7 years later. And after comparing cells isolated from the elite suppressor in 2017 with those isolated from him in 2013, the investigators again discovered that all of the virus cells were nearly identical.

The implication of the near-identical cells detected, even years later, is that the virus actually cloned itself. The cloned viruses formed a reservoir in CD4+ T cells, never entering the bloodstream. The investigators hypothesize that, when it comes to these patients, their own CD8+ T cells could be major players in keeping their viral loads under control. When the research team culled CD8+ T cells from the 2 patients and combined them with their own HIV-infected CD4+ T cells, the virus remained suppressed. When the team combined other peoples’ CD8+ T cells with the 2 patients’ HIV-infected CD4+ T cells, however, the low viral levels could not be maintained.

“CD8+ T cells from both subjects were able to inhibit replication of their own virus in their own CD4+ T cells,” Joel N. Blankson, MD, PhD, professor of medicine at the Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and an author of the study, told Contagion®. “The elite suppressor had the genetic marker HLA-B*57, which is associated with strong HIV-specific CD8+ T cell responses in some patients. We don’t know why the post-treatment controller had strong HIV-specific CD8+ T cell responses to his own virus but not to laboratory isolates.”

Although other studies have cast doubt on the suppressive role of the CD8+ T cell, those studies differed from the current one by not isolating the HIV virus from the same subjects whose CD8+ T cell function was being examined, Rebecca T. Veenhuis, PhD, a research associate also at Johns Hopkins University School of Medicine and a coauthor of the study told Contagion®.

“If our finding holds true for other post-treatment controllers, then it suggests that this is the mechanism of control. Developing CD8+ T cell vaccines alone with treating patients early in infection could possibly lead to extended periods of post-treatment control in some subjects,” she concluded.


Vancouver lab offers at-home HIV testing kits for $25

Price good through Friday in support of World AIDS DayMolecular Testing Labs in Vancouver and Kathy Ireland Worldwide are selling at-home HIV testing kits

Molecular Testing Labs in Vancouver and Kathy Ireland Worldwide have collaborated to offer affordable at-home HIV testing kits this week.

The kits will be sold for $25 through Friday in support of World AIDS Day 2018, which was Saturday. More than 1.1 million people in the U.S. have HIV, and one out of seven people don’t know they have it. HIV attacks cells in the body’s immune system, the natural defense against illness. AIDS is a set of symptoms caused by advanced HIV infection.

The kits can be delivered directly to your home in a discreet package. According to Molecular Lab’s website, the test is a “self-administered dry blood spot card with simple-to-follow instructions.” Dr. Charles Sailey, the medical director for the laboratory at Molecular, said these are the best at-home tests on the market, and can detect infection within five to seven days of exposure. Sailey added they’re close to 100 percent accurate.

“We are able to do testing that is as accurate as testing they would get at a hospital or clinic,” Sailey said.

There are instructions included with the test, and a provided envelope that can be used to mail the specimen back to the lab. The results can be viewed through a secure, HIPAA-compliant portal. Molecular can also help people find the proper physician if they have questions about their results.

Sailey said he couldn’t know what the kit would cost after Friday, since Molecular generally offers HIV testing as part of larger panel testing, but he did say that they were under the cost to the laboratory.

Sailey explained that at-home testing for sexually transmitted diseases and infections is “starting to take off,” but not to the level that genetic testing is. Sailey said that STD and STI testing has more scrutiny involved — for example, Molecular has two layers of accreditation.

Sailey said the rise in cases of syphilis and gonorrhea has somewhat tampered the conversation around HIV and AIDS, but he said that HIV is still very prevalent. Sailey also noted that HIV is treatable but incurable, while syphilis and gonorrhea can be cured. This week’s sale of testing kits is way to promote awareness and let people know that frequent testing is important.

“We’re doing this just to promote public health. To get (the test kits) out there,” Sailey said. “To get it in the hands of people who do want testing, who may not be able to afford expensive tests, but who want the best test.”

Author: Wyatt Stayner

Vancouver lab offers at-home HIV testing kits for $25

Montreal doctor develops at-home self-testing HIV smartphone app

A Montreal doctor has developed a smartphone app that could help people to detect HIV through self-testing — though it has been yet to be improved in Canada.

The revolutionary HIV at-home tests make it more accessible to those who need it most.

The app, HIVSmart!, was developed by McGill University Health Centre researcher Dr. Nitika Pant Pai who says that one of the challenges to eliminating HIV is stigma, which dissuades people from being tested.

HIVSmart! guides an individual through the process of performing their own HIV screening test, which consists of obtaining an oral fluid sample from the gum lining of their mouth.

The non-invasive test can detect the presence of HIV antibodies within 20 minutes and can be conducted in the privacy of one’s own home. The app gives users additional information, instructional videos, a 24-hour helpline and confidential links to healthcare facilities and access to counsellors should they have a positive test.


McGill University Health Centre Foundation

Globally, 26.9 million people live with HIV/AIDS and an astounding 50% of those infected do now know they are HIV positive, according to the McGill University Health Centre Foundation.

Although global transmission rates are now in decline, a combination of stigma, discrimination, social visibility and fear of non-confidentiality often prevent people from getting tested in proper healthcare facilities.

“HIVsmart! is an open-access mobile app that can be used to encourage people in any community to get tested for HIV,” says Dr. Pai. “By increasing accessibility, we will demystify the process and empower people to get tested more quickly. It is this type of innovation that will bring about social change and will have a positive long-term impact on our global health population.”

The app, which took 10 years to develop, mimics a medical visit by answering questions and providing a diagnosis.

In order to use the test, the patient needs a saliva sample from a home-testing kit which is not yet legal in Canada.

The country’s Health Minister says it’s too early to move forward when it comes to self-testing in Canada.

Author: Tyler Jadah


The road to zero: HIV medications mark new age of treatment

Twenty years since the first HIV medications hit the market, new generations of anti-retroviral drugs are now powerful enough to effectively erase the disease from the body.

When taken properly, the drugs suppress HIV to levels not able to be found by testing. Long-term research shows that this “undetectable” status means the virus cannot be transmitted to another person.

In addition, a medication called Truvada, originally used to treat HIV-positive people has found a new, life-saving purpose.

In 2012, the FDA approved the use of Truvada in people who are HIV-negative to prevent the virus from taking hold. Nicknamed “PrEP” for Pre-Exposure Prophylaxis, the drug, taken once-a-day, has proven to be 99 percent effective in blocking HIV.

The Chicago Department of Public Health’s latest report on HIV shows overall, the new cases of HIV in the city are down, due in part to HIV-positive people’s viral loads being undetectable through drug therapy. Health officials also credit the increased use of PrEP for the decrease in new cases.

The AIDS Foundation of Chicago worries that not every demographic is benefitting from the advances in treatment.

The CDPH’s report shows that while new cases are down by 29 percent for white Chicagoans and 10 percent in Hispanic residents, the black community saw an increase of one percent.

Howard Brown Health, a community healthcare non-profit in Chicago, is now concentrated on targeting minority groups not yet seeing the full benefits of the latest medications.

The Prep 4 Love Campaign is one of the many local efforts in Chicago and Illinois to increase the knowledge of those who are considered at-risk.

According to the Centers for Disease Control, gay and bisexual men have the largest number of new diagnoses in the United States. Blacks/African Americans and Hispanics/Latinos are disproportionately affected by HIV compared to other racial and ethnic groups. Also, transgender women who have sex with men are among the groups at highest risk for HIV infection, and injection drug users remain at significant risk for getting HIV.

An estimated 1.2 million Americans are considered good candidates for PrEP, yet only 77,000 are currently on the medication, according to AIDS Foundation of Chicago.

One of the biggest obstacles is price. Truvada can cost upwards of $2,000 per month. However, manufacturer Gilead has programs to help off-set the cost not covered by insurance. In addition, Illinois residents are able to get PrEP at no-cost. More information on all the programs can be found at or by calling 1-800-825-3518.



Guide to Christmas in Vancouver: Free Events and Activities

Vancouver holiday lighting at Convention Centre

totororo / Getty Images

You don’t have to spend money to enjoy Christmas in Vancouver because there are plenty of events, attractions, and activities coming to the city this holiday season that are completely free of charge. ​From ice skating at Robson Square to wandering through creative lighting displays, there are plenty of things you can do on your trip to Vancouver without spending a dime.

Robson Square ice rink, lit up at night.

Ian Cook / Getty Images

Since reopening for the Vancouver 2010 Winter Olympics, the free outdoor ice skating rink at Robson Square has become one of Vancouver’s most popular holiday and winter activities.

Located in the heart of downtown Vancouver, the Robson Square Ice Rink is open from December 1, 2018, to the end of February 2019. Although entrance to the rink is free, skate rentals cost extra, so you’ll need to bring your own skates if you hope to not spend money at this attraction.


Yule Duel vancouver

Courtesy of Yule Duel

Twenty choirs from around Vancouver will join together on Water Street in historic Gastown from 6 to 9 p.m. on Dec. 8, 2018, to sing for charity at the annual Yule Duel event.

Each choir will be judged by a panel of celebrity guest judges and the reaction from the crowd to compete for awards and prizes. The event is free to attend, but donations will be collected during the performances, and all funds raised will benefit May’s Place, a hospice in the Downtown Eastside.

Vancouver Cristmass Tree lighting

totororo / Getty Images

The 13th anniversary of the annual Vancouver Tree Lighting Celebration will take place on November 30, 2018, at the Vancouver Art Gallery in the very heart of downtown Vancouver.

The celebration, which lasts from 6 to 7 p.m., includes the ceremonial lighting of an impressive Christmas tree plus live entertainment and refreshments of hot chocolate and cookies. Afterward, your kids can also enjoy a visit with Santa Claus, who will be stationed at a mobile workshop nearby for photo ops.

Carol ships

Courtesy of Harbour Cruises

One of Vancouver’s most unique holiday traditions is the parade of “Carol Ships”—ships decked out with elaborate Christmas lights—that take to Vancouver’s waterways for nightly processions on Friday and Saturday nights in early December.

Although it costs money to go aboard one of the Carol Ships in the parade, you can watch this spectacle for free at any of the shoreside Carol Ship events for free. Featured events this year include bonfire watching parties in North Burnaby and West Vancouver’s Dundarave Park.

Kerrisdale Village in Vancouver, BC

© Dana Lynch

Kerrisdale Village–a picturesque shopping district in the southern Vancouver–celebrates the season with lots of free fun on Saturdays, including horse and carriage rides, live Christmas music in the streets, a free skating event, and a chance to meet Santa and his elves.

The holiday celebration for 2018 begins on December 8 from noon to 4 p.m. and continues on Saturdays until December 22. The Village will also be open on Sunday, December 16 for the Gliding on Ice free skating event and on Sunday, December 23 for horse and carriage rides.


Courtesy of Rogers Santa Claus Parade

One of the Top five Vancouver holiday attractions, the Santa Claus Parade features more than 60 marching bands, dance troupes, festive floats, and community groups and attracts more than 300,000 spectators along its route through downtown Vancouver each year.

The 15th Annual Vancouver Santa Claus Parade returns to the downtown area on Sunday, December 2, 2018, at noon. In previous years, the intersection of Howe and Georgia streets (where the parade makes its only turn) were overcrowded, so event organizers suggest that the best places to watch the festivities are at the start and end of the parade at the intersections of Georgia and Broughton streets and Howe and Davie streets, respectively.

Christmas at Canada Place

Ruth Hartnup / Flickr / CC BY 2.0


Canada Place is a historic landmark on the Vancouver waterfront that’s home to the Vancouver Convention Center, the Pan Pacific Vancouver Hotel, and the city’s World Trade Centre (among other attractions).

Each year, this popular attraction goes all out for Christmas at Canada Place, a month-long celebration of the holidays featuring lighting displays, family activities, and special events throughout December.

This free event will take place at the Canadian Trial and North Point at Canada Place from Friday, December 7, 2018, through Thursday, January 3, 2018. Events and attractions include the famous Canada Place Sails of Light, the Avenue of Christmas Trees, and Woodward’s Windows, a series of window displays that rival New York City’s Fifth Avenue holiday windows.

Winter Solstice Festival at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden, Vancouver

Courtesy of Secret Lantern Society

Take part in one of the world’s oldest traditions at this annual event that celebrates the return of the light after the year’s shortest day, the winter solstice, on December 21, 2018.

The festival lights up the longest night of the year with lantern displays, live musical performances, and events in Yaletown, Granville Island, and at Dr. Sun Yat-Sen Chinese Garden in Chinatown. All festival events are free, but donations are requested.

Lubavitch BC

Courtesy of Chabad Lubavitch of British Columbia

Held in front of the Vancouver Art Gallery in downtown Vancouver, Light Up the Night celebrates the first night of Hanukkah by lighting Canada’s tallest menorah, the Silber Family Agam Menorah.

The celebration also includes special performers and free hot cocoa and latkes, and guests will be able to meet local politicians and community leaders throughout the event. This important annual event—which is hosted by the Chabad-Lubavitch of British Columbia—will take place on December 6, 2018, starting at 5 p.m.

Holiday lights at Coquitlam's Lafarge Lake

Courtesy of City of Coquitlam

Coquitlam’s Lafarge Lake transforms into a magical outdoor holiday wonderland each December. With 100,000 twinkling lights, Lights at Lafarge is one of the largest free holiday lights displays in the Lower Mainland.

The lights will be turned on in mid-November this year and will stay on nighly until mid-January 2019. You can drive to Lights at Lafarge or take the SkyTrain Evergreen Extension to last stop, Lafarge Lake-Douglas.

Dr. Julio Montaner and Robert Hogg: Clear evidence of political failure in worldwide resurgence of AIDS

President Donald Trump, right, China’s President Xi Jinping, left, and members of their delegations during their bilateral meeting at the G20 Summit, Saturday, Dec. 1, 2018 in Buenos Aires, Argentina. The meeting could have been an opportunity to commit to ending AIDS.PABLO MARTINEZ MONSIVAIS/AP PHOTO

As we mark the 30th anniversary of World AIDS Day, we need to come to grips with a devastating reality — the end of AIDS may fail to materialize. As global leaders gathered in Buenos Aires last week, AIDS did not appear to be on their radar, let alone the agenda.

Complacency, apathy, budget cuts, combined with climate change and political unrest — and the resulting disruption in treatment access and continuity of services — are moving us toward an HIV rebound.

In just three decades, our children will be living in a world where more than 200 million people are displaced by climate change and political unrest. Of note, the African countries most impacted by growing populations and climate change are also those most impacted by HIV. According to United Nations’ projections, Africa will account for 40 per cent of the world population by the end of the century, 80 years from now. But, it’s not just Africa that is suffering. A study published in The Lancet HIV found 74 countries experienced increases in rates of new infections between 2005 and 2015, including Egypt, Pakistan, Kenya, the Philippines, Cambodia, Mexico and Russia.

At last week’s G20 forum in Buenos Aires, the world’s major economies came together to identify solutions for our planet’s most pressing challenges. HIV and AIDS has been a global challenge since the 1980s and we cannot afford to let it fall off the radar now. Treatment is not just a health issue and a human-rights issue, it’s an economic issue. The B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS has demonstrated, time and again, upfront investment in HIV treatment pays dividends down the road.

Alarmingly, even with potentially catastrophic scenarios at our doorstep involving climate change and political unrest, leading governments have stalled funding toward expanding access to treatment for ending AIDS. After widening access to HIV treatment in Africa from a baseline of 50,000 to 15 million, funding for the President’s Emergency Plan for AIDS Relief, the U.S. government’s global response to HIV/AIDS, has generally plateaued for the past decade. This, despite HIV treatment remaining unattainable within many health care settings in low- and middle-income countries.

Beyond cutbacks, indifference to a surge of discriminatory laws and policies in regions such as Eastern Europe and Central Asia are driving global increases in HIV. Governments are targeting vulnerable groups, including people who use drugs and the LGBTQ community. At the end of 2017, official estimates from Russia showed around 1 million people living with HIV and only about one third receiving treatment.

North America is experiencing pockets of HIV growth in areas in Western Canada and the Southern United States. Uneven access to effective, life-saving HIV treatment — due to marginalization, lack of insurance coverage or fear of criminalization — are sadly resulting in avoidable cases of HIV infection.

Just three years ago UNAIDS, the United Nations body tasked with addressing HIV/AIDS, announced an ambitious plan to end AIDS as an epidemic by 2030. As part of the plan, nations were called to meet the UNAIDS 90-90-90 target, which requires at least 90 per cent of all those living with HIV be diagnosed by 2020, at least 90 per cent of those to be on treatment and at least 90 per cent of those achieve viral suppression. Doing so, would have led to a 90-per-cent decrease in AIDS deaths and a 90-per-cent decrease in new HIV infections between 2010 and 2030.

Unfortunately, at the current pace, we are simply not going to reach the target. We will fail to see the end of AIDS as a pandemic by 2030.

Canadian leadership is critical. In less than a year, Canada will pass the baton to France as host of the Global Fund Replenishment Conference. In 2016, the federal government announced Canada’s pledge of $804 million to the Global Fund. That year, the conference raised $12.9 billion with the goal of ending AIDS, tuberculosis and malaria by 2030. While this funding amount is remarkable, it is not enough to bring treatment to all individuals living with HIV worldwide. Canada needs to support allies such as France and as they call on global partners to increase investment to end AIDS.

In the face of these existing and upcoming challenges to the end of AIDS, leading governments must re-double their efforts and international investments in 2019. Failing to do so will cost lives and money while causing unjust suffering. Meeting the 90-90-90 target will avoid all of that and will be cost-saving.

This is not a drill. We know what will end AIDS: increasing investment; expanding access to prevention, testing, treatment and support and reducing stigma. The G20 meeting this week would have been the ideal platform to demonstrate commitment to these achievable goals. Instead, it was a missed opportunity.

Dr. Julio Montaner is director of the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, Canada’s largest HIV research organization, and a professor of medicine at the University of B.C. Robert Hogg is an epidemiologist and demographer, a senior research scientist with the B.C. Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS and a professor in the Faculty of Health Sciences at Simon Fraser University.


Dr. Julio Montaner and Robert Hogg: Clear evidence of political failure in worldwide resurgence of AIDS

5 ridiculous things some people still believe about HIV/Aids

It’s time to shine the light on some of the ridiculous and far-fetched perceptions about HIV that people still have.

HIV has become completely manageable, but it is surprising how many people still believe some of the misconceptions about the condition.

The theme of 2018 is “Know your status”, which emphasises the importance of getting tested.

Here are a couple of misconceptions that need to be cleared up. Some are harsh and ignorant untruths while others are just absolute myths.

1. Only ‘high-risk people such as homosexuals and promiscuous people’ should be tested for HIV.

First, what defines “high risk”? Being with one long-term partner does not mean that you will never contract HIV.

“HIV can happen to anyone. It’s not a disease of the promiscuous. Think about survivors of rape or someone born with HIV,” says Barbara Kingsley, an HIV activist who was diagnosed in 2000.

And regardless of that, no-one should be shamed for their sexual choices and lifestyle.

It’s important to know your status as symptoms may not manifest for years and people can be completely unaware that they have HIV. The earlier you know your status, the earlier you can start taking antiretrovirals (ARVs) to combat the virus and take control of your status. You will also need to know your status to reduce the risk of infecting other possible sexual partners.

Regular testing will also help you raise awareness and break the stigma surrounding HIV/Aids by improving the negative attitudes and perceptions in your own family and circle of friends, even if you are with a long-term partner or not having sex at all.

2. You will get very sick and die if you are HIV positive.

Yes, HIV can lead to Aids. Yes, Aids can be fatal. Does this mean that you are immediately doomed as soon as you are tested positive? Certainly not. Nowadays, HIV is well controlled through ARVs, and many HIV positive people live completely healthy, happy lives.

It may take years for the immune system to deteriorate to such an extent that someone living with HIV becomes ill and is diagnosed with Aids.

According to the World Health Organization (WHO), HIV will progress to Aids if not treated with ARVs. This will usually happen after about 10 to 15 years, and before it happens, people with HIV may look and feel perfectly well and can continue life to the fullest.

HIV is no longer a death sentence and the sooner you are tested, the sooner you can start the proper treatment.

3. ‘I will never contract HIV/Aids. It’s a disease that only poor people get.’

This statement is so harsh that you cannot imagine anyone saying it out loud. The truth is, HIV is blind to colour or economic status.

According to a paper published in the journal AIDS, stigma surrounding HIV/Aids is a big factor in the limitation of proper treatment.

You as an individual might feel helpless in the face of the quest to find a cure for HIV, or to ensure that everyone has access to medicine and medical care. But what you can do is to start changing the views and perceptions of people in your immediate circle, which can have a wider effect on society.

4. ‘He/she is very skinny. They must have HIV/Aids.’

Progressive Aids in its end stages can cause weight loss and an impaired immune system. Untreated HIV can lead to Aids. However, there is no way of telling someone’s status by simply looking at them.

Physical signs and symptoms can take years to manifest or may never do so, especially when an HIV positive person is taking ARVs and has a healthy, active lifestyle.

5. It’s impossible to marry/have a sexual relationship if you are HIV positive.

Unprotected sex is the most common way of spreading HIV. But with protection, there is no reason why an HIV positive person can’t have a fulfilling relationship with an HIV negative person.

With proper treatment and management through ARVs, there is a chance that the viral load (the presence of HIV in your blood) may be undetectable. Research has shown that having an undetectable viral load can lead to little to no risk of spreading the virus to other people.

However, Barbara Kingsley says that it remains important always to use protection, no matter what your viral load:

“The goal of ARVs is for the virus to eventually become undetectable. This means that if you have an undetectable viral load for a period of six months or longer you cannot pass the virus on to others. It is very important to understand that this doesn’t protect you against pregnancy or any other STD, and that you can still practise irresponsible sex — you should ideally be in a monogamous, long-term relationship. An undetectable state can ONLY be achieved with ARVs, something that has been scientifically proven and internationally accepted. (It, however, doesn’t mean that you can have unprotected sex as you wish.)”

Health24 previously told the story of Quinton Jonck, a South African living with HIV. He said the following:

“My wife is wonderful – I tried to break it off with her early on in our relationship because I believed we had no future. She wanted to hear nothing about that and two years later we got married.

“Five years after we got married we had our first child. He was conceived using a procedure called sperm washing and insemination. When we had the next two children, I was on medication to take my viral load down to zero and we took a chance just at the right time. Now we have three children – two boys and a girl [all HIV negative].

“We are very happy and my wife is still HIV negative after almost 14 years of marriage. Although we only found out about my status after we met, we have always used condoms.

Get tested

It’s important to know your status. You can get tested at any of the following institutions, in both the public and private sectors:

  • Hospitals
  • Clinics
  • Pharmacies who offer clinic services
  • Community health centres
  • Family planning clinics
  • STD clinics
  • Pathological laboratories

Make sure that these institutions offer HIV/Aids counselling to help you process the result and to answer any further questions.



Body mapping exhibit explores stories of Sask. women living with HIV

“I’m privileged to be able to work with such a wonderful group of women who do share the lessons that they’ve learned with others in order to help others.”

The Journeys of Spirit & Hope: Women’s Body Mapping Exhibit hangs on the second floor of the Regina Public Library’s downtown location. It consists of life-size body maps and stories from HIV positive women in the community. BRANDON HARDER / REGINA LEADER-POST

The outlines of eight women adorn a wall at the Regina Public Library (RPL).

Each one is filled with colourful paint bringing to life images and symbols like the medicine wheel, scars and a pregnant woman.

Phrases such as, “Be calm Love your condoms,” “Strive to survive” and “CD4 viral load” weave in and around the images.

Next to each painting hangs a story — stories of Saskatchewan woman living with HIV.

“It was hard for me, but the first people I told were my kids, my family,” wrote one woman. “And when I told my partner … he started crying. Me and him cried together.”

“I do a lot of positive thinking,”  wrote another. “I know I am beautiful. I know I am smart and I’m loved.”

The paintings and stories are part of Journeys of Spirit & Hope, a body mapping exhibit on until Dec. 6 on the second floor of the RPL.

They were created during workshops held in southern Saskatchewan through a research study called Women, ART and the Criminalization of HIV (WATCH).

“They had approached me actually to put them on display,” said Jamie Crossman, a peer program co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Health Authority. “They wanted to share their stories.”

Crossman works with the eight Regina women who attended the out-of-town workshops.

She said they came back proud and glowing about the work they had done.

“They’re role models for other women in their community,” she said of the women, who have lived challenging lives and worked to overcome stigma, discrimination and more.

Mentors to other women in their community, the women support, lift up and empower others, Crossman said.

“I’m privileged to be able to work with such a wonderful group of women who do share the lessons that they’ve learned with others in order to help others,” she said.

The Journeys of Spirit & Hope: Women’s Body Mapping Exhibit hangs on the second floor of the Regina Public Library’s downtown location. It consists of life-size body maps and stories from HIV positive women in the community. BRANDON HARDER/ Regina Leader-Post BRANDON HARDER / REGINA LEADER-POST

The Journeys of Spirit & Hope: Women’s Body Mapping Exhibit hangs on the second floor of the Regina Public Library’s downtown location. It consists of life-size body maps and stories from HIV positive women in the community. BRANDON HARDER/ Regina Leader-Post BRANDON HARDER / REGINA LEADER-POST

The body maps are rife with visual representations of the ups and downs of a life with HIV.

Wrists with scars and words such as depression, divorce and violence tell one side of the story, while words such as graduation, power and caring tell the other side.

They are stories or resilience, acceptance, family, loss and love.

Another woman spoke of her life back in Manitoba. She used to work as a “head start educator” at a wellness centre where she provided clients with resources for housing and advocated for parents.

Following her diagnosis, she resigned from her job.

“That was all that took the spotlight,” she wrote. “Parents tried to be supportive but they didn’t understand. I didn’t want to continually explain and reassure others, and anyway there was always whispers.”

Crossman hopes the exhibit will spread awareness and encourage education around HIV in the province to help break down the stigma and prevent discrimination.

The exhibit, which opened on Nov. 27, marks AIDS Awareness Week (Nov. 24 to Dec. 1) and Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week (Dec. 1 to Dec. 5).

On Dec. 3, All Nations Hope Network is hosting a community gathering that will focus on discussing legal issues such as HIV non-disclosure and other issues faced by Indigenous people who are HIV positive.

The gathering will include a video screening, sharing circles and an arts-based project. It is being held at All Nations Hope Network (2735 5th Avenue) from 10 a.m. to 3 p.m. Lunch is provided.


Body mapping exhibit explores stories of Sask. women living with HIV