Learning the basic: preventing and protection yourself from HIV infection


Graphic by Alan Li

On Wednesday, Jan. 31, the Wilfrid Laurier University Centre for Women and Trans People held a HIV 101 information session in conjunction with the AIDS Committee of Cambridge, Kitchener, Waterloo & Area (ACCKWA), with the purpose of further educating students about HIV. In a statement released to The Cord, the WLU Centre for Women and Trans People gave information about the talking-points of the session.

The coordinators discussed the basics of the virus, including, “how HIV can attack the cells that help the immune system fight off infections.

If left untreated, individuals are more likely to get infections that the body is unable to fight off, signalling that the individual has AIDS, the final stage of HIV infection.”

Common myths about the transmission of HIV were also addressed and debunked.

“It is only through certain bodily fluids … that HIV can be transmitted,” presenters reiterated.

“HIV is not transmitted by touching, sharing toilets, or sharing dishes with someone who is HIV positive. HIV cannot be transmitted by mosquitoes, or via the air.”

HIV is most commonly transmitted by having sexual encounters with someone who is HIV positive without using a condom or taking preventative medicines.

Sharing needles or syringes with someone who is HIV positive is another way that the virus is transmitted. HIV can live in a used needle for up to 42 days after use.

After discussing how the virus is transmitted, the coordinators moved on to talking about preventative measures to avoid the transmission of HIV. As is often the case, abstinence is the only 100 per cent effective HIV prevention method.

But proven methods such as using a condom at all times and using sterile needles will also greatly decrease the risk of HIV transmission.

For individuals that are at a very high risk of contracting HIV (such as having a sexual partner who is HIV positive), taking a preventative medicine know as pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) is highly effective at lowering the chance of getting infected with HIV.

Daily PrEP reduces the risk of contracting HIV from a sexual encounter by more than 90 per cent, and reduces the risk from those who inject drugs by more than 70 per cent.

Combined with using condoms and other prevention methods, PrEP becomes extremely effective at preventing HIV transmission.

Despite the availability of these medicines, it is not always easy for individuals to access them. The stigma around HIV means that individuals often feel uncomfortable asking for preventative medicines, or even getting tested. Laws surrounding HIV disclosure further increase the stigma surrounding the virus.

They promote misinformation about how the virus is passed, and put the entire responsibility of protection and safe sex on the HIV positive individual. Canadian Blood Services still requires members of the LGBTQ+ community to abstain from sex before donating — for men it’s now for a year as opposed to the previous requirement of five years.

Organizations such as ACCKWA hope to break this stigma and offer support to individuals affected by HIV, whether they be carriers or family members of those affected.

On their website, ACCKWA gives details about the origins of HIV in the Waterloo region.

During the AIDS epidemic individuals living with HIV faced discrimination due to AIDSphobia, while testing and treatment remained inaccessible.

Over 25 years later, ACCKAW runs support groups, hosts weekly testing clinics and delivers harm reduction services, such as their needle exchange program. They have evolved to offer targeted prevention through various strategies, such as the Gay Men’s Sexual Health program and the Women & HIV/AIDS Initiative.

The WLU Centre for Women and Trans People offers resources regarding HIV in their centre, and is open from 10 a.m. – 4 p.m. Monday to Friday.

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