An Urgent Appeal From the Frontlines
5 min

An Urgent Appeal From the Frontlines

March 30, 2023
Cassandra Oluwasola
African, Caribbean and Black Coordinator
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The impact of shame and stigma surrounding HIV and sexual health is damaging. It stands in the way of individuals accessing the vital information and services they need to stay healthy. And to lead happy lives.

I’ve seen it all first-hand. And it’s time to shift the conversation and to break down barriers. The misconception is all too common—that only those who belong to specific communities are at risk of contracting HIV. But the virus doesn’t discriminate.

The hard, biological truth is that anyone who is sexually active is at risk. Which underlines the urgent need for education and accessible resources.

“I’ve learned that building a positive sexual health image begins with you. It means getting tested and knowing your HIV status.”

As a coordinator at a sexual health clinic in Ontario, I’m determined to change the conversation. I’ve learned that building a positive sexual health image begins with you. It means getting tested and knowing your HIV status. Which gives you the power to move on. I know this, because I’ve seen it, time after time.

Testing means having the knowledge to keep yourself safe while being sexually active. It’s about having a dialogue with your partner, so you know each other’s HIV status. Then taking appropriate steps to keep each other safe.

It’s also about learning about, and asking for counselling, support and HIV/sexual health services when you need them. Don’t be afraid to ask.

The system is far from equitable. Yet, we’re fortunate to live in Canada where we have relatively easy access to free, sexual health services. As well as HIV prevention medications and programs, like ‘I AM’ that provides efficient access to HIV self-testing and support. It’s anonymous. It never judges.

Regardless how you identify sexually, you can find a clinic on I AM unique to your needs. These are safe spaces where you can get tested for HIV, ask the difficult questions about sexual health, and get answers straight up.

Knowing your status is one of the first, if not most critical steps in taking control of your health. And there are clinicians ready to support you in getting the right care you need. It’s empowering.

“Regardless of your race, gender or sexual orientation, PrEP is a great way for ACB folks to protect themselves against the spread of HIV.”

And let's not forget about PrEP. The game-changing medication has been heavily marketed towards the gay, bisexual, and men who have sex with men (gbMSM). But the medication isn’t widely discussed among ACB communities, despite its effectiveness. Time to change this too. Again, PrEP can prevent HIV transmission, giving individuals peace of mind, and the ability to take control of their own sexual health. Imagine that!

Let’s act

It's time to take charge and start having open, honest conversations about HIV and sexual health. It's about empowering ourselves with the knowledge and tools to reduce the risks in our communities.

By breaking down traditional stereotypes and myths, we can create more accepting and supportive communities for everyone. So we can all lead the healthy lives we deserve. So we can all thrive.

But remember, the first step begins with you. It begins with getting tested and knowing your status.

Cassandra Oluwasola (she, her) holds an honours Bachelor of Science in Global Health with a specialization in Global Health Policy, Management, and Systems from York University. Passionate about educating ACB Communities about sexual health and HIV prevention, she has experience in providing anti-oppressive and anti-racist health promotion tools for racialized communities, both locally and internationally. As a dedicated advocate for the marginalized, Cassandra tirelessly works towards health equity for all communities.

A huge Harry Potter Fan, Cassandra's an avid reader and watcher of documentaries and and reality tv.

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