The Ribbon Rouge Foundation wants to remove the stigma around HIV.
When it comes to shame and silence around HIV-positive status in Alberta, some significant strides have been made since the height of the global AIDS epidemic in the 1980s.
But for African, Caribbean and black women with HIV, not much has changed, the Edmonton-based advocacy group says.
“The way African people get treated very often by our own family as well as the health care providers and social service and supportive services is just different,” said Morẹ́nikẹ́ Ọláòṣebìkan, president and founder of the Ribbon Rouge Foundation, in an interview on CBC Edmonton’s Radio Active on Tuesday. Morenike Olaosebikan is president and founder of the Ribbon Rouge Foundation. 9:40
“And then because there’s no voice or awareness it feels worse in our community,” Ọláòṣebìkan said, adding there is similar “intersectional stigma” for transgender and Indigenous people with HIV.
“The fact that people are living normal lives has led to a significant improvement in awareness and knowledge and a decline in stigma overall, but then there are certain priority populations where that’s not the case.”
Although African, Caribbean and black people are about 3.5 per cent of the Canadian population, they constitute about 13.9 per cent of those living with HIV, Ọláòṣebìkan said.
“Yet not a lot of people of African descent are aware of these sort of statistics in Alberta. And even in health care, it’s not a topic that gets discussed often enough.”
Photo voice project
The group is organizing a photo voice exhibit featuring African, Caribbean and black women, to help improve health outcomes.
Common themes in the lived experiences shared in the photo voice project, which will keep each participant’s identity anonymous, will be used to identify strategies and barriers to accessing health care, and to lobby for policy and legislation changes, Ọláòṣebìkan said.
A number of black religious leaders have supported the organization’s work by allowing Ribbon Rouge to do sexual education with youth in churches, and post flyers recruiting participants for the photo voice project, Ọláòṣebìkan said.
“It’s been very nice. I guess it’s been invigorating watching that happen.”
The group hopes to have the photo voice exhibitions held at concerts and in places like churches and mosques, starting next spring.
Christopher Wood, executive director of communicable disease control for AHS, said Ribbon Rouge is one of hundreds of individuals and organizations involved in its provincial strategy to address sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections.
“This important work brings multiple stakeholders and perspectives together to foster learning and deep listening opportunities to co-create interventions that tackle health inequities, and to meet the unique social determinants of health of Africans by Africans,” Wood said in an emailed statement about Ribbon Rouge’s listening campaign.
Anyone interested in participating in the photo voice project can call 1-800-761-0565, extension 101.