Unique Vancouver clinic provides comfort to HIV/AIDS patients
Tucked away in a corner of St. Paul’s Hospital in downtown Vancouver is a one of a kind clinic.
The waiting room at the John Ruedy Immunodeficiency Clinic (IDC) is filled with people from all walks of life – professionals, students, mothers, fathers, and grandparents. Some come from middle-class families, others from one of Canada's poorest neighbourhoods – Vancouver's downtown eastside. And many who come here have left unspeakable abuse and torture and come to Canada as refugees.
But there is one thing they all share in common – they have all been diagnosed with HIV.
Unlike in the 1980s when this clinic first opened its doors, living with HIV today means just that: living.
With tireless research into finding – not just a cure – but better treatments to live with the disease, people who test positive are no longer sentenced to death. Many live healthy, full lives with new drug treatments that make their viral counts almost undetectable.
It's a message clinical nurse Carole Kellman, who has worked on the front lines of HIV care in Vancouver for more than 20 years, is dedicated to getting across. “I’ve always had that passion to keep pushing the envelope, keep raising awareness,” she tells Global News.
Despite advances in care, people living with HIV still have to pay more attention to their health than the average Canadian living without the disease. As a result, the clinic doesn't just have doctors and nurses, but counsellors, nutritionists and social workers as well. It's the only clinic in Canada to offer this kind of care under one roof.
Patient comfort is obviously a top priority. Staff don't just treat the medical conditions caused by HIV, but also the other issues that come with living positive.
“We look at patients not just in terms of their blood work. We see them as more than just their HIV. They are a whole person with very different needs and every patient is different,” explains IDC program director Scott Harrison.
Julie Kille, a nurse and the operations leader, says she and her colleagues have gone beyond the call of duty to help patients. “(If) you need a way to get to the clinic, we’ll help you do that. There’s a lot of things that we go sort of outside the box on. We’ve come up with some interesting ways of dealing with some client needs.”
“We’ve had people actually go out and buy bags of food for people,” Kille adds.
HIV also still needs to be managed with drugs. Left unchecked or untreated, it can be deadly.
An estimated 25 per cent of Canadians still don’t know they have contracted HIV, and that means it can be spread unintentionally.
With infection rates on the rise among women and heterosexuals, Kellman urges everyone to practice safe sex, get tested and educated.
“Twenty-seven per cent of new diagnoses are heterosexuals, and out of that population, women are most at risk and particularly, women over the age of 50,” says Kellman.
New rapid HIV tests are available, meaning there is no longer a tense waiting game.
For anyone hesitant about getting tested, one HIV-positive patient who frequents the clinic has this advice. “I would say get over it, go get tested. It’s the only way you can live a happier, healthier lifestyle, really.”
BY THE NUMBERS: HIV/AIDS STATISTICS WORLDWIDE
According to amfAR (the American Foundation for AIDS Research)
• More than 34 million people live with HIV/AIDS
• About 10 per cent of them are 15 years old or younger
• Every hour, almost 300 people are infected with HIV (that works out to roughly 7,000 people per day)
• In 2011, an estimated 2.5 million contracted HIV
• 230,000 of them were 15 years old or younger