West Shore residents are deprived of local HIV-related services, according to a study released in January.
Published in the Journal of the Canadian Dental Association, the study evaluated HIV-related support services including “HIV education,” testing, “partner notification” and “preventative resources” in Langford and Colwood, finding none.
By contrast, Kelowna, Kamloops, Vernon, Nanaimo, Abbotsford, Victoria and Surrey, were each found to have varying degrees these resources available.
The data collected in the study excluded services that accept patients regardless of HIV-status and “services accessible online but physically located outside,” the authors wrote.
In West Shore, “there’s no centralized STI clinic, for example, for people to go to,” said Hermione Jefferis, manager of community help at West Shore AVI Health Clinic (WSAVI), which provides a wellness and education clinic for men once a month in the West Shore, and offers HIV-testing to its at-risk patients.
“As far as I know, there aren’t any particular services based in Langford,” said Katrina Jensen, executive director for AIDS Vancouver Island (AVI).
AVI offers workshops in the West Shore to schools and community groups for prevention and addresses some of the stigma for people living with HIV, but is unable to provide standalone HIV-service to the West Shore due to its already strained resources.
“The prevention stuff is easy right? It’s just an educator going out, but it’s the support that’s a little bit harder for us to do,” said Jensen.
The group provides a drop-in meal program and educational support to around 100-200 people living with HIV out of their downtown office, she said. A few of those people area coming from the West Shore to access AVI’s service, Jensen noted.
If someone contacted WSAVI requesting an HIV test, Jefferis would refer them to the closest available services outside the West Shore, such as Island Sexual Health in Victoria, a non profit based out of Victoria that offers sexual health clinics and does educational outreach in the West Shore.
“It’s definitely an issue,” she said.
Jefferis added that if she gets a patient who HIV positive, she would work with them to make sure they are accessing mediation and tell at-risk patients about taking pre-exposure prophylaxis, a medication taken to prevent HIV infection.
Currently, Jefferis said, WSAVI is “busting at the seams” as the only service in the West Shore providing harm reduction and health services to its patients, offering addictions medicine and opiate substitute therapy on top of providing primary care to patients who don’t have physicians.
She added, “We started off two days a week, now, well, we’re at three basically.” WSAVI is currently trying to secure funding to bring in more doctors.
“We are doing our best with our limited resources, and at this point, more likely we would be referring people to other services, and unfortunately most of those services are downtown [in Victoria].”
For everyone, getting tested for HIV as part of their wellness at least once in their lifetime is important, especially if they are sexually active, although that isn’t usually the case, Jefferis said.
A barrier to HIV testing is that HIV point-of-care tests are not standard to community and health clinics, she said. People don’t think to get tested for HIV because of the stereotypes about who is vulnerable to the virus, she added. People who have physicians may also fear the stigma that goes with asking for a test.
The Public Health Agency of Canada estimates that by the end of 2016, 14 per cent of the 63,110 people living with HIV in Canada didn’t know about their infection.
“It’s really important that people be able to access services in their home communities without having to travel,” Jensen underlined.