HIV ‘is not the death sentence it used to be’

Prince Albert Mayor Greg Dionne poses with HIV/AIDS Awareness walk participants at City Hall on Nov. 26, 2018. Submitted photo.

Awareness walk held Monday to bring awarness and reduce stigma for those diagnosed with HIV/AIDS

Fred Simpson wants people to know that it’s not the 1980s anymore.

Simpson, a support worker for 601 Outreach Prince Albert, said the way treatment for HIV has improved over the past several years, the diagnosis is no longer a death sentence.

601 Outreach held a unity walk Monday to bring awareness to Prince Albert and surrounding area about the presence of HIV in the community. The walk coincides with HIV/AIDS awareness week, which takes place annually in the last week of November.

“It’s not the death sentence it used to be,” Simpson said.

“That’s why we did the unity walk, to support our brothers and sisters who have lost their lives to the disease.”

Simpson said many people still think a positive diagnosis of HIV means you are going to die, which is simply not true.

“That’s not the case anymore. With our antiretroviral drugs, anybody with HIV or AIDS can live a healthy lifestyle. The new medication out there is second to none. It’s just like having diabetes now.”

According to CATIE, a not for profit which shares information about HIV/AIDS and hepatitis C to frontline service providers, people properly following a treatment regime can reach the point where HIV becomes undetectable. If you take treatment and maintain an undetectable viral load, you won’t transmit the disease to anyone else.

“Once you’re on your medication and you’re undetectable, you’ll never transfer that virus onto anyone else, sexually or intravenously,” Simpson explained.

“It’s called U=U. Undetectable, untransmittable.”

That message goes with the other message Simpson is hoping to get out this week: go get tested.

“We preach harm reduction,” he said.

“Don’t be scared, go get tested.”

These messages are particularly important in the Prince Albert area. The former Prince Albert Parkland Health Region recorded 56 new HIV cases in 2016, a rate 73 per cent higher than the average for the ten years prior.

While HIV is traditionally thought of as a sexually-transmitted disease, in this area, it’s more commonly spread through intravenous drug use.

601 establishing footing in P.A.

601 Outreach Prince Albert, which operates out of Access Place, is holding another event Friday to mark world AIDS day. The organization will have stew and bannock available. Everyone is welcome to come down to support the awareness initiative and learn more about HIV and hepatitis C in Prince Albert.

The walk and the stew and bannock are some of the first initiatives put on by 601 Outreach Prince Albert, which has only been operating in the city for three months.

The organization, an affiliate of AIDS Saskatoon, is a support stem that provides referrals to other agencies in the area, leads education programs and workshops and works with individuals.

Simpson said 601 Outreach Prince Albert plans to work closely with Access Place.