As many get swept up in romantic prospects presented by Valentine’s Day, some pragmatic considerations are necessary. Sexually transmitted infections are on the rise among youth, and two U of S professors who study HIV/ AIDS share some key points.
Ryan Meili is an assistant professor in the departments of community health epidemiology and family medicine, head of the division of social accountability and has spent a considerable amount of time researching the disease.
Meili also heads the Saskatchewan HIV/AIDS Research Endeavour, a group that seeks to implement HIV/AIDS-related targets set by the United Nations’ UNAIDS. The goal is called 90-90-90.
“90-90-90 is this idea that we should have 90 per cent of those who have HIV diagnosed, 90 per cent of those who are diagnosed on treatment and 90 per cent of those on treatment having an undetectable viral load, meaning their amount of virus is so low that you can’t find it on a test, and they can’t really pass it on to anyone else,” Meili said. He insists that meeting these targets would drastically reduce the transmission of HIV and AIDS-related deaths.
Pam Downe, a faculty professor and former head of the departments of anthropology and archeology, has conducted ethnographic studies of motherhood in the context of HIV/AIDS.
The pair say that while the prospect of a diagnosis can be frightening, students should get tested and if positive, seek appropriate care as soon as possible.
Downe suggests that students identify a trustworthy support person and access such resources as AIDS Saskatoon and its 601 Outreach Centres throughout the province to obtain accurate information, as myths can be harmful.
Chief among those myths is the notion that AIDS is a death sentence. According to the research, that is no longer the case.
“People are living very long and full lives HIV-positive. There are tremendously effective antiretrovirals now. It depends on what strain you have, the viral load; it depends on a lot of things. But there’s good therapies that allow you to live a full life with intimacy, with friendships, with job success, with energy and with joy in life,” Downe said.
That HIV/AIDS is still most prominent in the LGBTQ community remains another common myth.
Cathy Johnson, AIDS Saskatoon’s education and prevention coordinator, addresses this common misconception in an email to the Sheaf.
“Men who are having sex with other men is a distant third category compared to men having sex with women,” Johnson said.
With intravenous drug use as the primary cause of HIV infection in Saskatchewan, Meili stresses the need for legal implementation of harm-reduction strategies like Vancouver’s safe injection site. The provision of community-based emergency medical care for intravenous drug users that is implemented in other cities is another option that may mean the difference between life and death for many.
“Some of that is getting people off of drugs. That’s great but not everybody’s ready to or able to. So we need to make sure that while they’re still using drugs, they’re able to stay as healthy as they can and that means not being in a situation where they have to use unsafe equipment to use drugs,” Meili said.
According to Downe, an obstacle to accessing care that is unique to motherhood is the fear of having one’s children apprehended by Social Services.
“Sometimes that fear is unfounded. Sometimes that fear is very real and accurate. And so women won’t go. And that’s a huge fear,” she said, adding that if western social institutions recognized the communal nature of child rearing in certain Indigenous and immigrant cultures, these families could remain intact.
According to Meili, the Saskatchewan government is demonstrating a lack of political will to affect change and will not provide adequate funding to perform all of the necessary research.
“What we need is the political will and the resources to do it right, and if we do that, you know, we have a difficult situation in Saskatchewan: lots of rural and remote communities that are struggling with HIV and AIDS. That’s going to happen in lots of other places. We could … become the leaders.”
Graphics: Jeremy Britz / Graphics Editor