News / Toronto

Campaign to address rising HIV rate among indigenous population

Events taking place next month will focus on fighting stigma and encouraging people to go for testing.

Toronto’s Trevor Stratton will be among the advocates sharing their stories during next month’s campaign for HIV prevention in indigenous communities.

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Toronto’s Trevor Stratton will be among the advocates sharing their stories during next month’s campaign for HIV prevention in indigenous communities.

Trevor Stratton understands what it’s like to live with stigma.

As an aboriginal person living with HIV for 26 years, the Toronto resident has often felt “isolated and desperate” because of his health status.

“When everyone says you deserve it and stuff like that, it affects your confidence and self-esteem,” said Stratton, co-ordinator of the International Indigenous Working Group on HIV-AIDS.

The HIV rate among indigenous people in Canada is 2.7 times higher than the general population, according to the nation’s public health agency.

In addition to poverty and a lack of education, Stratton said stigma is another factor contributing to rising HIV rates among Aboriginals. People won’t disclose their HIV-positive status, or avoid getting tested altogether out of fear of discrimination, he said.

But Stratton is working to change that narrative.

Next month he’ll be part of a national campaign organized by the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network. As part of Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week, the group will hold discussions with indigenous people in different cities about HIV prevention.

“My personal hope is to convince more people to go for testing,” Stratton said. “I’m really concerned about people who don’t know their status because they are likely to spread HIV without even knowing.”

The network’s CEO, Ken Clement, said having Aboriginal people like Stratton talk to their own community about HIV-AIDS personalizes the campaign and makes it more engaging.

“For too long we’ve seen a policy development coming from the top down, and it hasn’t worked,” he said.

It doesn’t help that funding for community programming continues to be scarce. Last September, for instance, the Public Health Agency of Canada slashed its financial support to the Aboriginal AIDS Network by 70 per cent.

“Those cuts will definitely affect our ability to reach more people who need our services,” Clement said.

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