When AIDS Yorkton began, the disease was a mystery. Not much was known about HIV/AIDS, or how it could be treated. People were dying from the disease, as it quickly spread around the world.
Today, it’s a different story, people are able to live a long time even after an AIDS diagnosis thanks to the new treatment options available.
One thing has remained the same, people still need testing to know whether or not they have it.
AIDS Yorkton has shut down, and is passing the torch to the new outreach program operated by SIGN. That came with a donation of $740 to the new program, as AIDS Yorkton closed their accounts and wanted to support the programs going on now.
Vivianne Minkin, with AIDS Yorkton, said that the decision to support the new SIGN program was a natural fit, because the program is continuing the work they did years ago.
The problem back then was partially that people did not want to admit they could have contracted AIDS, and Minkin admits they had to fight to get people to believe it was something that could affect them.
“At that time, they just said it was the gay community that was spreading it. Of course, then the gay community did get very involved, and People Living With AIDS (PLWA), they got very involved, and got out there and educated, and I think that really helped get rid of that stigma.”
As much work has been done, there is still a stigma attached, and the disease is now associated with intravenous drug users. Candace Nelson, outreach social worker with SIGN, said that while that is a high risk group, it’s still a disease that could affect people who aren’t necessarily at risk, so it’s important for everyone to get tested. While it’s no longer a death sentence, the only way for treatment to work is if people actually know they have the disease.
This region needs AIDS awareness because there was an outbreak in the former Sunrise Health Region, Nelson admits, with an 800 per cent rise in the number of new HIV patients in 2016 - around 16 new cases compared to a regular year where there were two. Part of the reason for that rise in patients was more comprehensive testing, she said, but that is also a clear example of why that testing is needed.
“One in five people don’t realize they have it, they’re passing it without realizing it. Once we identified those people, they are in treatment, or at least engaging in care.”
For Nelson, her job is to get people to get the test, and she doesn’t understand why someone wouldn’t get a test to just stay safe.
“If you knew that you had cancer, you would want to get tested early for cancer. You would want to get tested early for diabetes. You want to get tested early for hypertension. But for HIV people would rather assume they don’t have it. Why wouldn’t you want to get tested and put on antiretroviral treatment?”
Getting the money from AIDS Yorkton means that the program can do more outreach work, Nelson said.
This piece has been edited to change the name "Vivianne Lincoln" to "Vivianne Minkin."