Conversation with Chris Aucoin, E.D. of AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia

Chris Aucoin, Executive Director of AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia (ACNS) at the memorial wall. Dylan Samson.

In-home, immediate, HIV test kits are available in Canada. Aucoin wants communities to get on board.

December 6, 2020

HALIFAX, NOVA SCOTIA. Chris Aucoin, long-time AIDS activist and current executive director of the AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia said if not for the breakthroughs in AIDS research over the last forty years, he would have “burned out” as an AIDS activist a long time ago.

“In the eighties HIV/AIDS was a death sentence. Now it’s treatable. You don’t have to die if you test positive for HIV,” explained Aucoin.

“[Today] there is no reason why you can’t go on to live to the same life expectancy as anyone [without HIV]. That’s the new reality.”

Chris Aucoin, Executive Director of AIDS Coalition of Nova Scotia (ACNS). Dylan Samson.

“It’s not to say it isn’t challenging to live with HIV [Human Immunodeficiency Virus] – it is,” said Aucoin, himself diagnosed twenty years ago. A medication regime, dealing with damage done to the body prior to treatment, and the burden of an unwarranted and unkind stigma attached to people living with HIV or AIDS [Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome] does “sometimes get in the way.” However, he insists, there are many reasons “to see hope” and continue the work.

HIV is treatable and treatment curbs transmission

Not only is HIV treatable with medications but once treated, patients may, said Aucoin, “reach the  status of ‘undetectable’” – in as little as six months of treatment – meaning they are no longer infectious.

“At that stage,” affirms Aucoin, “it becomes impossible to transfer HIV to anyone else.”

The trouble with the spread of HIV in Nova Scotia and elsewhere is that people can carry and transfer HIV without knowing they are positive for the disease, explained Aucoin.

“You can’t get on treatment if don’t know you have it.”

Are there barriers to testing?

Yes, said Aucoin, according to the many phone calls he gets. For Nova Scotians who think they may be infected, a lack of resources – to get them to the doctor, clinic or testing agency for example – and/or a lack of privacy, prevent them from getting tested.

Is there a solution?

Yes, said Aucoin. For example, earlier in November Health Canada approved the first in-home HIV Self Test.

HIV Self Test

“It’s the same technology as the Rapid Test [already available in some provinces] but now presented in a way people can do it for themselves,” said Aucoin, “as opposed to having to see a doctor, nurse, or a specialist to do the test for them.” The new home test is by finger-prick to draw a drop of blood and the results come within a minute or two.

HIV Prevention

In addition to breakthroughs in treatment and testing, Aucoin spoke of a medication available in the form of a daily pill that people without HIV can take to prevent HIV.

“It prevents HIV and for high risk groups particularly, this is a good thing. In jurisdictions where [the pill] is made available, rates of infection among gay men goes down,” Aucoin noted.

Altogether, Aucoin is optimistic.

It’s “conceivable” Aucoin said, “to end HIV infection in this country in a decade. It’s been proven elsewhere that we have the tools.”

2020 VIGIL The annual World AIDS Day vigil produced by ACNS on December 1st will comprise of a “downsized in-person event” this year at the Italian Cultural Centre. For the first time, the memorial will be live streamed over Zoom. Participants may exchange stories, listen to a guest speaker, light a candle and take a quiet moment to remember loved ones. All welcome.


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