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Is It Criminal To Have HIV? Barriers To Knowing Your Status, a Canadian Institutes for Health Research-sponsored Café Scientifique, will take place in St. Johns on Monday, Dec. 2.
The discussion forum coincides with World AIDS Day and will bring experts and the community together to address the barriers to HIV testing, including the legal requirements for disclosing HIV status to sexual partners. Memorial Universitys School of Pharmacy, the AIDS Committee of Newfoundland and Labrador (ACNL) and Eastern Health are co-hosting the event.
Dr. Debbie Kelly is an associate professor with Memorials School of Pharmacy and the HIV clinical pharmacist with Eastern Health. As the lead organizer for the event, she explained the importance of addressing the issues around HIV testing.
We continue to see new HIV infections being diagnosed in this province, she said. We also know that up to 26 per cent of Canadians are unaware of their HIV-positive status. We need to make it easier for people to get tested, and understanding the barriers to HIV testing is key. Removing the impediments to getting tested includes improving the accessibility of HIV testing, and addressing the stigma and fear associated with criminalization of HIV.
Cécile Kazatchkine, a senior policy analyst with the Canadian HIV /AIDS Legal Network will be a panellist at the Café Scientifique. She will speak to the legal issues regarding the criminalization of HIV non-disclosure in Canada.
In 2012, the law became harsher for people living with HIV, who can now be convicted of aggravated sexual assault for not disclosing their status to their sexual partner even if they used a condom, she said. Being exposed to the risk of criminal accusations, even if you take precautions to protect your partner, just creates another reason for people to be reluctant to get tested for HIV. Instead of criminalizing people for knowing their status, we should work on removing all barriers to HIV testing, care and support and create an environment where people living with HIV are free from violence, discrimination and stigmatization.
When it comes to the issue of accessibility, point-of-care (POC) HIV testing (also referred to as rapid HIV testing) has been proposed as a possible solution. Dr. Jaqueline Gahagan, professor and head of the Health Promotion Division at Dalhousie University, will be on hand to discuss the evidence supporting POC testing as a means to overcome some of these obstacles, as well as the newly released National Consensus Statement on Women, Trans People and Girls and HIV Research.
The third panelist will be Zack Marshall. A social worker and co-chair of the National Point of Care Testing Working Group, Mr. Marshall will open the panel discussion with his own presentation regarding barriers to HIV testing, highlighting perspectives from the local context.
The Café Scientifique format facilitates group discussion in an informal, social environment. This free, public event is being held on Monday, Dec. 2, in the Rocket Room at the Rocket Bakery, 272 Water St., from 7-9:30 p.m. Refreshments will be provided. For more information, please visit the events section of the ACNL website, www.acnl.net.
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