In 2011, over three-quarters of all Canadians stricken with HIV were males. Sometimes, women feel left aside when resources for HIV-positive persons are allocated. To find out what this might mean in practical terms we spoke to Alexandra, who agreed to let us publish her story:
Delphine Caubet File: STD-Aids
Delphine Caubet: When and how did you contract HIV?
Alexandra: I contracted it in 2006. I was 27. At the time I was using injectable drugs and I was a sex worker. But I was being very careful, so I wouldn’t catch any diseases. I was dating this guy… He didn’t tell me he was HIV-positive. And that’s how I contracted HIV, during sexual relations with my partner.
DC: How did that change your life?
A: I learned I had HIV when I was in the emergency ward for an abscess. The nurse broke the news to me coldly, then just left. I had no support at first. I knew nothing about the disease. I just knew I was going to die.
The next 6 months were a catastrophe. I didn’t care about anything. I used, among other things, needles that I knew were contaminated with HIV… At that point my virus count was very high, and I was on the point of contracting full-blown AIDS. I was admitted to hospital. That’s when it all dawned on me. I’d been completely disconnected from everything, and a nurse helped me understand things. She gave me steps to follow, to get me out of my hole.
Since then, everything’s gone great! I work for 2 intervention groups. One works with addicts, and the other with sex trade workers. Because of what I’ve lived through, I’m very good at my work. I can understand what to do without trying to save the whole world. I go step by step, like I did when I began.
DC: Does being HIV-positive interfere with your work?
A: Not really. I have regular appointments at the doctor’s. I notify in advance, so there’s no problem. But I also work in the community. Before this, I worked at a clothing boutique. My colleagues knew I was HIV-positive and it didn’t bother them.
DC: How do you tell a boyfriend?
A: My current boyfriend knew I was HIV-positive before we began dating. He’s HIV-negative. But before him, things went well. I always told my partners before entering into relations, and generally, the reply was, “That’s what condoms are for!”
It only posed a problem once. A male friend advised me to not tell the man I was dating beforehand. The next day I told him I was HIV-positive. He went ballistic! He went straight to the emergency ward, and when he saw that the nurse was taking a blood sample without putting on gloves, he realized he might have over-reacted. He didn’t understand the risks. From then on, we used protection.
Ever since then I’ve always informed boyfriends before the fact. Whether it’s love or friendship or anything else. And when you do, you have to hold your head high.
DC: How do you foresee motherhood?
A: Before, I didn’t think I wanted a child. But with my current boyfriend, I’ve changed my mind. It’s really important for him!
In terms of conception, since my virus count is very low, we can do that the usual way. I have to be monitored by a doctor during pregnancy, and the birth should happen normally.
When the baby is born it will have to undergo a preventative course of treatment for several weeks. The only thing I won’t be able to do is breast-feed. Otherwise I’ll be a normal mom. If my child is injured, for example, I’ll be able to dress the wound.
DC: What are services like for HIV-positive women?
A: They don’t do much for women! I learned I can’t breast-feed in a book for “queers”, which I’m not! I understand the need to target groups at high risk, like men who have relations with other men. But women are also affected. There is hope. Things are starting to turn around for women.
Canadian law is unclear on whether or not HIV-positive persons have to notify their partners before commencing sexual relations.
The Supreme Court of Canada has, in a decision, stated that HIV carriers must notify a lover before any “high risk” relations are undertaken. If you don’t, you can be arrested. You can be tried or sued even if your partner does not contract the virus.
But it’s not entirely clear what “high risk” means in this context. Persons who are HIV-positive, but who carry an undetectable virus count, have been acquitted of criminal charges. Use of a condom is essential.