When it comes to educating people about a virus, a personal story about the impact of a diagnosis makes it real. Sharing a personal account about being diagnosed with HIV/AIDS, however, also means learning what it is like to live with the stigma of a virus.
The story of HIV/AIDS diagnosis, for seven Algoma residents, is the focus of this year’s HIV & AIDS Resource Program’s (HARP) Red Lock campaign. Their stories are shared in a locally-produced video where actors portray them but the words are their own. It is a raw and honest account as to what it is like to be diagnosed and how their lives have been impacted. It also includes information on how far advancements have come in treatment by Dr. Lucas Castellani, Infectious Disease Specialist, Sault Area Hospital.
“It is empowering to share your story when you’ve experienced stigma and it is a powerful way to connect with people and perhaps break down their ideas about HIV,” says Shana Shipperbottom, Support Services Worker, HARP (Group Health Centre).
Past years’ campaigns have used a red scarf and then a red lock as the image associated in their annual HIV awareness campaign. This year’s pandemic, and its associated social distancing and safety protocols, moved it onto a virtual platform. It still carries the theme of unlocking love, hope and acceptance.
The campaign runs from November 24 – December 7, centering around World AIDS Day on December 1. HIV Awareness Week is the last week of November. Aboriginal AIDS Awareness week is the first week of December.
“We wanted to find a creative way to engage with the public, while observing all safety protocols, so this year members of the public can either go directly to the website or use their smart phone to scan the QR code that is on the poster which will link them to the video,” says Shipperbottom.
Currently, there are 50 people in Algoma with HIV diagnosis.
“We typically see an increase of one to three people each year,” says Shipperbottom. At HARP, support is provided for individuals who are infected, affected or at risk by HIV/AIDS and related issues.
Three staff oversee the three components of the HIV & Aids Resource Program: Stephen Lang is the Healthy Sexuality and Prevention Co-ordinator; Macy Palaro is the Outreach Worker and Shipperbottom is the Support Services Worker.
Lang conducts workshops and educational sessions on sexual transmission in addition to providing education and referrals for PrEP. Palaro focuses on reaching out to the drug using population by meeting with them to talk about harm reduction, accessing meals and educating them on the disease. As a support services worker, Shipperbottom works in a case management role directly with people living with HIV. Her goal is to decrease barriers that these people may be experiencing whether it is ensuring regular they take their medication regularly, accessing housing or referrals to other services
Clients are under the care of Dr. Lucas Castellani, Infectious Disease Specialist, Sault Area Hospital or Dr. Roger Martin Sandre, Infectious Diseases Specialist at the Haven and Hemophilia Program at Health Sciences North in Sudbury.
“The biggest barriers to treatment is stigma and with increased knowledge and understanding, there can be much less fear associated with this virus,” says Shipperbottom. “There are so many advancements in in medication and science and, in fact, many people only need to take one pill a day.”
Information installations are located at White River, Wawa, Sagamok First Nation, Serpent River First Nation, Thessalon First Nation, Elliot Lake, Blind River, Garden River First Nation and Batchewana First Nation. In the Sault, the QR posters can be found at participating businesses plus Bellevue Park, on the Sault Ste. Marie boardwalk, at Fort Creek Conservation area and Velorution (Second Line and Old Garden River Road).
“We tried to identify public locations that are accessed by people from all walks of life,” says Shipperbottom. “We hope that when people watch the video, they hear these stories and are able to shift the conversation to one of love, hope and acceptance.”
To learn more about the 2020 HARP Red Lock Campaign, visit hiv-awareness.ca.