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PODCAST.: Dr. Reka Gustafson talks HIV, COVID, the toxic drug crisis and mental health

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You will find ‘Today in B.C.’ podcasts on iTunes, Spotify, Amazon, iHeart and Google podcasts.

Dr. Reka Gustafson joined Island Health after holding positions in Vancouver as the medical officer for the City of Vancouver and as the deputy chief medical health officer for Vancouver Coastal Health.

“As a general rule, don’t start a new public health job at the beginning of a pandemic”, said Gustafson, who received her medical training at UBC.

During her time in Vancouver, Gustafson worked primarily in communicable disease control, and worked with a team to change the testing practices for the way that HIV is diagnosed and managed.

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“The entire healthcare system in British Columbia improved early diagnosis for HIV with the help of really dedicated clinicians and outreach teams, made sure that people were linked to treatment early and the result was that British Columbia, has sustainably reduced infection rates for HIV and improved treatment substantially,” she said. “That’s a pretty unique trend in Canada.”

On this edition of Today in B.C., host Peter McCully asked Gustafson what are the solutions to help people who are accessing toxic drugs in British Columbia.

“The fact that we arbitrarily criminalize some substances and not others is something that we need to address,” she said. “We need to really look at the legislative and societal framework in which some substances are criminalized and others are a completely normal part of our social fabric. And there’s a clear correlation between the toxicity and the harms of those substances that we criminalize.”

Gustafson also offers her insight into the flu season, COVID, alcohol use and mental health issues.

If you have suggestions or comments, send a voice message to podcast@blackpress.ca you may be part of our audio podcast mailbag segment.

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World AIDS Day brings Red Scarf campaign back to Stratford – Stratford Beacon-Herald

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Stratford’s downtown core will be decorated Thursday with handmade red scarves, a symbol of hope and solidarity on World AIDS Day dedicated to the thousands of Canadians living with HIV and the stigma the virus still carries.

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Over a dozen knitters in the Stratford and St. Marys area contributed nearly 100 scarves to this year’s Red Scarf campaign, a signature event organized by Regional HIV/AIDS Connection (RHAC) – a Southwestern Ontario charity that supports individuals and communities living with, at-risk for, or affected by HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

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Each scarf is a symbol of awareness and compassion that includes on a small tag with more information about HIV and the work RHAC does. 

They’re free to take if you don’t already have one of your own.

“I think it’s important,” said Laurie Krempien-Hall, a local knitter and RHAC volunteer who’s helped organize the annual Red Scarf campaign in Stratford for over a decade. “I hope that (people) look at them, they take one … and wear it with pride.”

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The Red Scarf campaign began in 2012. Since then, volunteers have knit more than 12,000 of them in an effort to raise awareness about the human immunodeficiency virus, which causes acquired immunodeficiency syndrome.

“HIV isn’t what it used to be,” said Martin McIntosh, RHAC’s director of community relations education. “Today, people living with HIV today can lead long, healthy lives without passing the virus on to others.”

According to the Canadian Foundation for AIDS Research (CANFAR), effective HIV treatment can suppress the virus in a person’s system to a point where it cannot be transmitted to sexual partners. HIV can also be prevented by taking a medication.

Despite those advances, however, stigma remains a significant obstacle for people living with and at-risk for HIV. 

“So many people still think it’s something that’s gone away,” Krempien-Hall said. “It’s not gone away.”

“A red scarf is a really easy way to show your support,” McIntosh added. 

A World AIDS Day vigil held in Stratford prior to the pandemic hasn’t yet been revived, McIntosh said, but RHAC’s vigil at London’s First-St. Andrew’s United Church will be steamed live on Zoom for anyone who wishes to take part.

More information about RHAC’s programs and services can be found at redscarf.ca.

cmontanini@postmedia.com 

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Ontario pediatric infectious disease experts urge parents to get kids vaccinated – Cornwall Seaway News

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TORONTO — Children five and under in Ontario should be vaccinated against COVID-19 and influenza before the holiday season amid surging hospital admissions, infectious disease experts are warning.

In a joint statement earlier this week, experts from four of the province’s pediatric hospitals said vaccinations are a critical tool to help mitigate the effects of a viral season that could prove longer and more severe than years past.

“In the current context of increased circulation of respiratory viruses such as SARS-CoV-2, influenza and RSV, optimizing the uptake of both COVID-19 and influenza vaccines in children are of crucial importance, especially before the winter and holiday season,” said the statement from the Hospital for Sick Children, CHEO, the Children’s Hospital at London Health Sciences Centre and McMaster Children’s Hospital.

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Data released by Public Health Ontario shows that as of Nov. 6, only seven per cent of Ontario children aged six months to five years had received a first dose of a COVID-19 vaccine and as few as two per cent were fully vaccinated.

The experts said that’s particularly concerning because children aged four and under have a higher risk for hospitalization from COVID-19 than any other group of kids and teens.

The province has not yet released data on uptake for the influenza shot this season.

Several Ontario pediatric hospitals have recently announced they would cut back on surgeries and deploy staff to help backstop overburdened intensive care units and emergency rooms.

Hospital admissions are surging under a triple-threat of respiratory syncytial virus, influenza and COVID-19, at a time when the health-care system was already grappling with record numbers of job vacancies.

This report by The Canadian Press was first published Nov. 30, 2022.

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Starbucks Partners Come Together for World Aids Day

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Join the Starbucks Canada Pride Partner (employee) Network in the fight against HIV and commemorating the lives lost to AIDS-related illnesses on World Aids Day (December 1) and see how we can all take action to uplift our communities.  

The impact of AIDS is felt around the globe in communities and homes near and far. An estimated 38.4 million people worldwide are living with HIV as of the end of 2021 and 650,000 000 people died from AIDS-related illnesses in that same year, according to the UNAIDS. Progress is being made, but still four decades into the HIV response, inequalities persist for the most basic services like testing and treatment.

This is why the Starbucks Canada Pride, Black, Pan-Asian and Indigenous Partner Networks are teaming up with I’m Ready to Know, a national program that is implementing, scaling-up and evaluating low-barrier options for access to HIV self-testing and support to everyone in Canada. Starbucks partners (employees) can visit I-AM.health/StarbucksPN to know their status and get access to free and completely anonymous HIV self-testing.

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“It is so special to collectively come together as Partner Networks, a vast and diverse representation of the Starbucks partner population, to raise awareness and action about HIV self-testing that is free and confidential, while also encouraging our partners to take their health into their own hands with such an incredible program like I’m Ready to Know. With World Aids Day around the corner, we wanted to show solidarity and demonstrate how our partners are united with the cause.”

Steven Snyder, co-chair of Canada Pride Partner Network

Partner Network Member Spotlight

At Starbucks, partner networks help create connections over shared experiences and values, encourage professional growth, raise awareness of important issues and serve as a bridge between our stores and the communities we serve. Israel (he/him), a three-year partner and member of the Canada Pride Partner Network shares his journey on educating his self and others about HIV.

“I grew up in a conservative and religious environment, and that had a huge impact on my knowledge of sexual health. I had no exposure to LGBTQ or HIV education and there was no one in my community to guide me through the experience of being a queer youth. It wasn’t until I moved to Toronto and started as a Starbucks barista that I met partners (employees) who shared their knowledge and experiences with me. My fellow partners pushed me to accept and grow into my own identity and I started to become more comfortable speaking about and educating myself on the topic of HIV.

However, it was earlier this year that I was faced with it head on when I thought I had been exposed to HIV. It was a scary moment and a feeling I will never forget. With this feeling came a lot of anxiety about testing and finding out my status, but I knew I had to overcome my fear. It was this experience that showed me that there was so much for me to learn and understand and how important it is to share my knowledge with others so the stigma around HIV can be broken.

 In my unique experience as a Queer, Filipino man, I find that HIV-related stigma and discrimination are most prevalent in BIPOC communities as many of us are told HIV is ‘the gay disease’ and experience deep-rooted cultural stigmatism. This not only significantly impacts the health, lives and well-being of people living with or at risk of HIV, especially key populations, but also impedes the HIV response in many ways such as testing, treatment, and prevention services.

Advocating and sharing the word regarding HIV prevention has become very important to me. As a person with a negative status, I have the privilege of educating others around me about HIV and AIDS and helping them be ready to know their own status. I wish I had the opportunity to learn, grow, and make mistakes in a safe environment, but now, I am focused on living my wishes by looking out for how I can support other people.  Being a Starbucks partner and having the support of my fellow partners had such a profound impact on me and helped me immensely in my journey, so I hope to continue that legacy with others.

To me, World Aids Day is about uplifting those that are down and giving a voice to those that need to be heard.  The stigma surrounding HIV continues and that’s getting in the way of people leading healthy lives. This is a day to share how important it is to be informed; ignorance comes at a price, and that price can be people’s lives. This is an opportunity for us all to judge less, learn more, and practice empathy.”

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