Social Stigmatization: Access to Healthcare & the Spread of HIV in Canada

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OTTAWA — Medications for the treatment of HIV and AIDS have come a long way over the last few decades. According to researchers, individuals infected with the disease are unable to transmit it to others if the status of their viral load is “undetectable.” In order to obtain this status, those who are infected must consistently take prescribed antiretroviral medications.

Nonetheless, Canadian law enforcers have established additional precautionary regulations for persons living with the virus. Currently, one out of five people are unaware that they live with HIV for fear of either getting tested and facing social repercussions, or as a cause of inadequate access to healthcare.

Disclosure and Prosecutions

Furthermore, in 1998, the Supreme Court of Canada imposed a law stating that a person living with HIV/AIDs has a legal duty to disclose his/her status to all sexual partners. Failure to do so can result in imprisonment for criminal sexual assault, as well as registration as a sex offender. The law does not apply to a person who has a low viral load, as long as he/she uses a condom during sexual intercourse.

Worldwide, Canada has the third highest number of criminal prosecutions for HIV nondisclosure. However, various doctors and researchers believe that requiring both a low viral load and condom usage is an unreasonable requirement because it is nearly impossible to transmit the disease with a low viral load. Furthermore, many experts agree that this law only exacerbates social stigmatization by inducing an overall fear of people living with the disease.

Accordingly, some individuals intentionally choose to refrain from getting tested and learning their status because they fear the inevitable social stigmatizations that may follow, including employment inequality and unstable relationships. These factors, in turn, help to further the spread of infections.

Funding and Treatment

Some of the other factors that play a role in transmission include inadequate government funding for AIDs organizations aimed at educating the public regarding prevention, along with funding for healthcare clinics that strive to provide free healthcare testing. Many people from lower income communities are unaware of their health status because they are unable to obtain access to the proper healthcare resources. Moreover, there was a 33 percent cut in federal funding for the AIDs society in the year 2017 alone.

“Twenty seven percent of people are not accessing care and getting treated; they’re infecting others,” according to the executive director of the Canadian AIDS Society. Not surprisingly, the rate of infections in certain areas of Canada — such as rural areas in Saskatchewan — are disproportionate to infection rates in higher income populations.

In response to growing social stigmatization and inadequate access to healthcare, healthcare experts have openly expressed the need for Canadian lawmakers to reform some of its federal nondisclosure laws. Likewise, advocates for the AIDs Society seek more funding from the government to assist people from all socioeconomic backgrounds, and to better educate the public.

Lael Pierce

Photo: Flickr

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