HIV prevention in the Lakes District

A Southside organization received funding for an HIV prevention project.

The Southside Health & Wellness Centre recently received approximately $13,000 from Northern Health to support an HIV and Hepatitis C prevention project.

The project will run for 18 months and will involve testing, treatment and outreach in the Lakes District area and in surrounding First Nations communities.

The centre plans to increase access to education for the community by hosting workshops and information sessions.

Southside Health & Wellness Centre’s coordinator Aileen Serle said education on how to prevent and treat HIV and Hepatitis C is much needed in the area.

“When HIV first hit the news it was considered a fatal disease, but now there are medications [available] and it is basically now considered a chronic disease,” she said. “So if we can get information out about preventing it and treatment, you can reduce the transmission of the disease, the stigma, and help people to take care of themselves if they do have it.”

Serle said it’s not only important to reach out to drug users, but also to educate the community because many people have misconceptions about drug users.

“Drug users are not necessarily the people we see on the street; sometimes they are family members and neighbors,”she said. “There’s a lot of education needed around who uses it and how they use it.”

“We know there are people in the community who are not using it [drugs] safely,” she continued. “They are not taking advantage of the treatments that are available, so we have to pull those people in so they can get those treatments.”

Serle said the centre will be expanding current programs such as the ‘brown bag’ program, in which drug users are given clean needles, as well as increasing access to counselling.

“We will be working together to make sure that information is available in multiple communities across the region,” she said.

Although the centre still hasn’t finalized a plan, Serle said the next steps will be decided in the coming weeks.

The Southside Health & Wellness Centre, located in Grassy Plains, provides community based programs in prevention, promotion, rehabilitative and supportive areas of primary health care.

The centre is overseen by a board of directors that has representation from three First Nations groups – Skin Tyee Nation, Cheslatta Carrier Nation and Nee Tahi Buhn Band – and from the Southside community.

As part of the provincial STOP HIV/ AIDS initiative, Northern Health has recently awarded $1.59 million to eight agencies in communities across the north, plus 23 First Nations communities