Ottawa committee breaks down barriers on National Afro-Caribbean Black HIV/AIDS Day

Arya Gunde • Feb. 12, 2024

(Photo courtesy of Asif A. Ali/ACO).

Feb. 7, 2024, The AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO) held a series of events to commemorate National Afro-Caribbean Black HIV/AIDS Day at their Main Street office

The day started with a human library, where members spoke about their experiences relating to specific topics such as HIV stigma, treatment shots, healthcare and racism. 

There was a variety of speakers for each of these subjects with many overlapping themes. Freedom was an important one, as many expressed the ways they feel shackled by the diagnosis. 

(Photo courtesy of Asif A. Ali/ACO).

It was powerful to hear them describing the fight to find peace and happiness after testing positive. One woman put it in simple terms, “HIV patients are not dying, they still have a life to live.” 

One speaker explained she contracted the virus through an extremely traumatic experience. She’s reminded of this experience every day when she takes her medication. 

Other attendees recounted the difficulties of carrying pills everywhere, taking them at social events, or having nosy friends who discover their condition by snooping through cupboards.

As of 2020, almost 63,000 Canadians live with HIV, according to HIV estimates. Fortunately, treatment is changing. 

Since 2020, Canada has allowed the use of injections for long-lasting HIV treatment. The injections are taken every two months, freeing patients from the daily burden of a pill. 

Dawn Molot, the ACO’s in-house nurse confirmed the injections are a growing trend amongst the community. She says this is in part due to recent OHIP coverage.

The only side effect Molot noted was pain in the injection site. While the current injection is delivered every two months, there is hope that a six-month treatment will be widely available soon.

The ACO event introduced guest speakers for presentations. Professor Patrick O’Byrne from the University of Ottawa introduced “GetaKit.” The organization sends people self-test kits to detect sexually transmitted infections. 

According to their website, “GetaKit is a University of Ottawa study to evaluate an online assessment and mail-out system for sexual health services, including testing and prevention.” 

GetaKit partners with non-profit organizations and municipal leadership to distribute their kits. This includes Indigenous communities, where new HIV infections are over-represented in Canada. 

Professor O’Byrne said the service is available from Cornwall to Peterborough to North Bay, forming a triangle that covers much of Eastern Ontario. He says Peele, Hamilton, York, and Simcoe Muskoka regions will be the next to sign on.

Sam Gujral presented next, speaking about fighting barriers to PrEP access with the PrEP clinic. PrEP is a preventative pill taken by those who have a higher chance of encountering HIV. More information on PrEP can be found here.

(Photo courtesy of Asif A. Ali/ACO).

The night concluded with a free dinner open to all attendees. 

As HIV spreads in Canada, this event serves as an important reminder of humanity. It came with the affirmation that a diagnosis cannot define someone.