Agenda 11: Thematic Segment HIV and Ageing
Ageing with HIV: live long and live well
By Trevor Stratton
Thank you Mr. Chair,
26 years ago at the age of 25, I learned of my HIV diagnosis through a phone call from a hematologist. I thought my life was over. Indeed, in the 1980s and early 1990s, the outlook for HIV+ people was bleak.
After a week of enduring severe side effects from heavy doses of AZT, the only viable treatment option at the time, I rejected the advice of my HIV specialist opting instead for higher quality of life in the short term, knowing my death from AIDS-related complications was looming in the very near future.
With a fractured family structure, substance use issues, no education, few employable skills and low self-esteem I somehow had the good sense to access year of weekly therapy sessions at the clinic which helped me realize that I was more than a victim. The people at the clinic didn’t judge me for the choices I had made in my life, including my choice to continue using drugs and sex working. Slowly, I made the choice to reduce my drug use on my own, without coercion from the social workers and medical staff.
Eventually, I stopped going to the clinic and avoided doctors and clinics even after the earth-shattering news in 1996 of Highly Active Retroviral Therapy. I refused the treatment on ethical grounds knowing that millions of people in Africa and elsewhere were dying from lack of access to the new life-saving treatments.
I wasn’t until my AIDS diagnosis, when my wife and son pleaded with me that I finally I resumed accessing the HIV clinic and began taking the new treatments in late 1998. It was then that I also connected with the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network and with my Indigenous culture embarking on a journey to come out of social isolation, depression and self-stigmatization to focus on my physical, emotional, mental and spiritual health.
While so many of my Indigenous relations have suffered terribly with HIV and co-morbidities, personally, I have never been hospitalized with anything HIV-related and continue to thrive with HIV. To my delight, my doctor suggested that HIV research should be focusing on PLHIV like me to study resiliency through culturally appropriate, strength-based approaches to healthy aging with HIV.