HIV in Indigenous Communities

What is HIV?

HIV stands for Human Immunodeficiency Virus. It is a virus that attacks the immune system, the part of your body that helps protect you from infections. As HIV weakens the immune system you may become sick and develop AIDS (Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome). Aboriginal people living with HIV or AIDS are often called APHAs.

How can I get HIV?

HIV lives in bodily fluids, such as blood, semen (cum and pre-cum), vaginal fluids, and breast milk. The most common ways of getting HIV is from sex without a condom or sharing the needles used for injection drugs or tattooing. All these ways of spreading HIV can be avoidable. HIV infection is preventable.

How do I know if I have HIV?

HIV can be detected through a simple blood test. This test can be done in a doctor’s office or in a special clinic where you can be anonymously tested. Even if you have to use your name to get tested, it is against the law to tell anyone about your results without your permission.

If I have HIV, will I get sick?

As HIV weakens the immune system, you can get sick. You may lose weight, become very tired and get infections that you used to be able to fight off in various parts of your body. It may take many years for you to get sick.

If I have HIV, can I treat it?

Yes. There is no cure but HIV can be controlled with medication. Doctors will not prescribe HIV medications until your immune system starts to show weakness and some people go for many years without having to take medication. Usually you need to take more than one medication to treat HIV on a regular schedule. This allows the drug to be more effective and reduces HIV resistance to the medication. These drugs lower the amount of HIV in your body but can never get rid of it completely. The medications will keep you from getting sicker and make you feel better. Doctors and nurses will work with you to find the right combination that cause the fewest side effects.

If I need medications, how do I pay for them?

First Nations and Inuit people can get medications (and other health care services) through a program run by the Government of Canada. You are entitled to these benefits if you have a Status card. They will pay for most medications prescribed by your doctor. They may also pay for some traditional aboriginal services, as well as travel to see a specialist. For people without a Status card, the provincial and territorial governments have other programs to pay for HIV medications and health care.

Are there further HIV resources?

Yes, there are a number of HIV resources within Alberta and Canada. For further information, please visit the resource links listed below.