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World AIDS Day 2011

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December 1 is recognized as World AIDS Day. In honour of this day, it seems fitting that we reflect upon the people who have lost their lives to this disease, and those who continue to live with it.

By Kimberley A. Burt, Dr. Bayan Missaghi

December 1 is recognized as World AIDS Day. In honour of this day, it seems fitting that we reflect upon the people who have lost their lives to this disease, and those who continue to live with it.

HIV/AIDS first appeared in Canada as a disease in the gay male population and in people infected through the blood supply.

However, the face of HIV/AIDS has changed dramatically over the last 20-30 years.

Canada has had an HIV/AIDS epidemic, and is presently having several epidemics, occurring in specific populations.

Although men who have sex with men (MSM) continue to be the population most affected by HIV/AIDS, the disease has also become a significant public health issue for injecting drug users, women, Aboriginal peoples, prison inmates, people from countries where HIV is endemic, as well as those already living with HIV/AIDS.

Risk behaviour data on young Canadians also show significant potential for HIV transmission among youth.

Canadians view HIV/AIDS as a very serious issue, but most consider themselves to be personally at very low risk for contracting HIV infection.

Given that 26% of those infected with HIV do not know their HIV status, this is of concern, as individuals may be placing themselves and others at risk by not being tested.

Stigma associated with HIV infection prevent people from getting tested, and lead to discrimination against those living with HIV/AIDS.

Stigma and discrimination surrounding HIV/AIDS remains a significant problem. A national survey found that 44 per cent of Canadians felt that people infected with HIV/AIDS should not serve the public in positions like dentists or cooks, and 43 per cent indicated they would feel uncomfortable if their child was attending a school where another student was known to have HIV/AIDS (HIV/AIDS – An Attitudinal Survey, 2003).

However, the same survey also showed that people who knew someone with HIV/AIDS, and those who were more educated and knowledgeable, tended to be more accepting of individuals with HIV/AIDS overall.

There is a need for better access to current and accurate information about HIV/AIDS to reduce stigma, and subsequently increase HIV testing rates, reduce HIV transmission, and improve quality of life to those living with HIV/AIDS.

Canadians indicate that they would prefer to receive information about HIV/AIDS from health care professionals rather than from the media or in school, though few actually receive their information from their doctors.

In 2009, a joint committee of Eastern Health (EH) St John’s, NL and the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador (ACNL) was established.

Members of this committee from Eastern Health include the provincial HIV program physician, nurse practitioner, clinical pharmacist and social worker, as well as the communicable disease control nurse, and program and divisional managers. Representatives from ACNL include the executive director, outreach coordinator, program coordinator and a person living with HIV (PHA). We formulated a mandate to improve communication regarding issues relating to access to care for PHAs, and to develop an education strategy.

As a result of our education strategy planning, we have determined that there is a need for better access to current and accurate information about HIV/AIDS to reduce stigma, and subsequently increase HIV testing rates, reduce HIV transmission, and improve quality of life to those living with HIV/AIDS. The outcome of the joint EH-ACNL committee is very positive and has initiated a coordinated effort of conference planning.

With this background in mind, a daylong conference for healthcare professionals is planned for Thursday December 1st, 2011, which is World AIDS Day, at the HSC auditorium.

The theme for the conference is: You and your patient —beyond HIV: a multi-disciplinary conference for healthcare providers.

The topics being presented at this conference will be informative and focus on making the health care provider knowledgeable in current HIV treatment and care today.

Varied disciplines will provide valuable information on HIV infection/transmission and infection control, managing co-morbid care-primary health care issues, testing/counseling/ongoing care, treatment guidelines up-dates, stigma and healthcare delivery and psychosocial issues in HIV.

It promises to be a very knowledgeable and important conference for healthcare workers, and we are very excited to be able to deliver this.

So please mark your calendars, and join us December 1, 2011 in St John’s, HSC.

For more information please visit the World AIDS Day 2011 page on the Memorial University website.


HIV/AIDS in Canada

• Canada had its first diagnosis of AIDS in 1981

• The first death attributed to AIDS in Canada was in 1983

• Approximately 21,000 people have died as a result of infection with HIV/AIDS in Canada

• Rates of HIV infection are on the rise in Canada, with over 65 000 Canadians estimated to be living with HIV/AIDS in 2008

• National estimates suggest that as many as 26% of those infected with HIV are still unaware of their status.


• In NL, there has been a steady increase in the number of new infections diagnosed, from two per year (2006) to seven per year (2010)

• The total number of patients with HIV infection who are currently receiving care is approximately 135

• Provincial HIV testing rates have increased from 25.04/1000 people (2006) to 28.61/1000 people (2009)



Article sources

Kimberley A. Burt , RN, NP, is a Provincial Immunodeficiency Nurse Practitioner and Dr. Bayan Missaghi, MD, is assistant professor, Faculty of Medicine, Memorial University and medical director of Eastern Health’s HIV Clinic.



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