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Raising awareness about Aboriginal AIDS

Cowichan Aboriginal aids awareness, Kw’am Kw’um S’uli program coordinator Matthew Louie recently led a peer-education awareness workshops in Cowichan. - Ashley Degraaf
Cowichan Aboriginal aids awareness, Kw’am Kw’um S’uli program coordinator Matthew Louie recently led a peer-education awareness workshops in Cowichan.
— image credit: Ashley Degraaf

Matthew Louie used popular acronyms among teenagers to target youth recently with handouts to help spread AIDS awareness among Aboriginals.

Louie is the program coordinator for Cowichan Tribes’ Kw’am Kw’um S’uli, an organization that facilitates workshops for youth, elders, people who work with and for Aboriginal people in the Cowichan Valley regarding HIV, AIDS, Hepatitis C (HCV), and sexually transmitted infections (STIs).

Acronyms and facts included “OMG... nearly 1/2 of all new cases of HIV in Canada are Aboriginal women; IDK... do you know your HIV status? One Aboriginal person in B.C. tests positive for HIV every week; WTH...more women than men are being tested for STIs and HIV;” and, “What’s the 411...1/3 of new cases of HIV in Canada are Aboriginal youth ages 15 to 29 years old.”

“I think what’s important is discovering the truth and also knowing this health condition is 100% preventable,” said Louie Monday from Cowichan Tribes Ts’ewulhtun health centre, which offers free and confidential HIV and STI testing from 8:30 a.m. to 4:30 p.m. on Mondays through Fridays excluding statutory holidays.

“It’s really about getting the message out there and also addressing the stigmas and that stigmas can often prevent the truth from being discovered.”

This week, from Dec. 1 to 5, marks Aboriginal Aids Awareness week, with Dec. 1 also World AIDS Day.

Louie, a board member of the Red Road HIV/AIDS Network, recently organized a peer-education series of workshops in Cowichan offering training to folks interested in volunteering or facilitating their own workshops with small or large community groups.

“It’s the beginning of the training we will be offering,” said Louie. “And we have a lot of work ahead of us.”

The 31-year-old got involved with the HIV and AIDS movement through his work as coordinator for the Aboriginal Youth Program at YouthCO.

He was then nominated and elected to the Red Road board in 2001.

“We can see how much we have learned since HIV was first detected in the early 1980’s — and how much things have changed,” said Louie in a board member profile published in Red Road’s publication bloodlines.

“As the number of people living with HIV grew dramatically, the international community was called into action.

“Socioeconomic challenges faced by indigenous peoples contribute to the spread of these health conditions,” he said. “By communicating in a respectful language when educating our children, youth and families about HIV, we have an opportunity to support those living with HIV or AIDS and their families.”

Kw’am Kw’um S’uli has been in operation for 10 years and reaches out to the community by attending local events and handing out free condoms, as well as hosts regular, confidential gatherings for folks living with HIV, AIDS, Hep C and their loved ones.

More information about the organization can be sought by calling 250-748-2242, emailing mlouie@hofduncan.org, or visiting the website at www.hofduncan.org.

AIDS not just a young person's disease

On Dec. 1, the Canadian AIDS Society asked folks to remember “It’s Not Over.”

The number of older people living with HIV has risen steadily in the last 15 years. In 2011 in Canada, nearly one out of every five new diagnoses was for a person over age 50. It’s estimated the percentage of seniors with HIV (age 65 and older) will almost double in Canada in the next 25 years. With current treatments, people are living long, healthy active lives with HIV. It is now a chronic disease, not a terminal disease.

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