4th Annual HIV Know Your Status forum
- NC Raine | February 26, 2020
An HIV Knowledge Exchange Forum, focused on breaking down stigmas and sharing information, knowledge, and experience, took place in Saskatoon.
The 4th Annual HIV Know Your Status forum was hosted by Big River First Nation in partnership with Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation and Saskatoon Tribal Council, along with First Nations Inuit Health Branch (FHIHB). More than 200 attendees gathered, including doctors, nurses, program managers, and outreach workers – many of whom are Indigenous.
“The special message in this conference is to emphasize the unique outreach work that the communities are doing,” said Dr. Ibrahim Khan, Medical Health Officer. “People in these communities are often in very difficult conditions – they don't have stable housing, they might have multiple health conditions – so, outreach is very important.”
The need for strategic healthcare in continues to be great, as Saskatchewan saw an 18 percent increase (199 new cases) in HIV rates in 2019, as per the Saskatchewan Health Authority. Saskatchewan also a 172 percent increase in syphilis last year.
“A major issue in our communities is addiction. Addiction usually drives the outbreak in First Nations,” said Khan. “Crystal methamphetamines are coming into communities, which really complicates the response. But many communities have stood a very solid response to these issues.”
The forum focused in part on developing a Know Your Status program, in which communities will receive support in assessing community readiness, planning and implementation of HIV, Hepatitis C and STI education, harm reduction, testing, and clinical management.
“HIV is somewhat de-stigmatized, but a lot of people do still feel a great deal of discrimination and racism when it comes to those with HIV(...) if you are judged by the way you look and speak, by your ethnicity, by the way you are dressed, that plays a role in the overall receptions and quality of care for the patient,” said Khan.
According to Khan, HIV or Hep-C patients often report being unsatisfied with healthcare; being sent home without proper treatment or advice. This is particularly problematic for HIV patients, who require regular treatment and follow-up.
“The comfort level of the patient is really important. Patients need to feel they can open up and provide information about their unique, personal situation. In urban settings, clinics are often busy. You can't dive deeper into someone’s conditions if you only give them five minutes,” said Khan.
The treatment target goal, as set by UNAIDS, is “90-90-90”: by 2020, 90 percent of all people living with HIV will know their status, 90 percent will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy, and 90 percent receiving that therapy will have viral suppression.
Both Big River First Nation and Ahtahkakoop Cree Nation have received international recognition for their work combatting the spread of HIV and AIDS. Marshall Dreaver, Councillor at Big River First Nation, said education and resolve is what helped their community overcome adversity.
“When we first started getting a lot of HIV cases, we thought it was a death sentence because we didn't know what it was,” said Dreaver. “Our Chief at the time took the bull by the horns and said 'we are not going to let this overpower us. We are going to find ways to address the problem.'”
Big River First Nation has since become a national and international leader in HIV strategy, their leaders attending conferences worldwide to share insights on dealing with HIV outbreaks in your own community.
“One of our biggest things was that we don't want people leaving our community. If someone has HIV, we want them to stay back and get treatment here. We want to create an atmosphere where people with that sickness don't feel like they are treated differently,” said Dreaver.
“If someone can take something from our experiences and do something positive in their home community, that's what this is all about.”