Stay informed: Breaking the Chains of HIV / AIDS Transmission

By Chevi Rabbit for Alberta Native News

(ANNews) – Last month commemorated Indigenous AIDS Awareness Week (Dec. 1 – 7) which serves as a crucial platform to not only enhance awareness but also to break the chains of fear and stigma surrounding HIV. Engaging in meaningful conversations, honouring those living with HIV/AIDS, and remembering those who have succumbed to the illness within our communities empowers everyone.

In this transformative era of heightened HIV awareness, a revolutionary concept is reshaping narratives and providing profound liberation: Undetectable Equals Untransmittable (U=U). At the forefront of championing this notion is Harlan Pruden, a Nēhiyo/First Nations Cree, actively engaged with the Two-Spirit community locally, nationally, and internationally. Currently serving as an Indigenous Knowledge Translation Lead at Chee Mamuk, an Indigenous health program at BC Centre for Disease Control, Harlan is also a co-founder of the Two-Spirit Dry Lab – the first research group on Turtle Island dedicated exclusively to Two-Spirit people, communities, and experiences.

According to women’s health research at the University of British Columbia, Harlan, in addition to being the Managing Editor of, serves as an Advisory Member for the Canadian Institutes of Health Research’s Institute of Gender and Health.

Before relocating to Vancouver in 2015, Harlan co-founded and directed the NorthEast Two-Spirit Society, a community-based organization in New York City. Notably, Harlan was appointed by President Obama to the United States Presidential Advisory Council on HIV/AIDS (PACHA), providing crucial advice, information, and recommendations to the Secretary of Health & Human Services and the White House.

In an interview with Alberta Native News, Pruden aims to raise awareness and educate readers about medical breakthroughs that reduce viral loads to undetectable levels, signifying that individuals can lead fulfilling lives without the constant burden of fearing transmission to their partners.

Complementing the U=U revelation is the role of HIV pre-exposure prophylaxis (PrEP) as a powerful shield against the virus. As emphasized by Pruden, PrEP is “100 percent publicly funded and available to all First Nations people outside of BC who receive their healthcare through FNIB.” This preventive measure serves as a crucial tool for HIV-negative individuals wishing to maintain their negative status.

PrEP’s benefits extend beyond its accessibility. For those on PrEP, exposure to HIV becomes a manageable risk. “If you’re negative and you’re on HIV prep, if you’re exposed to HIV, it’s voided from your system,” notes Pruden. This underscores PrEP’s effectiveness in preventing the virus from taking hold, empowering individuals to engage in consensual relationships without constant anxiety.

The foundation for both U=U and PrEP lies in the fundamental step of knowing one’s HIV status. Pruden stresses, “For all people, all of this begins with knowing your status, so it’s important that we know our HIV status.” Once armed with this knowledge, individuals can make informed decisions about their health and take proactive steps to maintain their well-being.

Pruden addresses the nuanced aspects of disclosure and its evolving dynamics in the era of advanced medical interventions. “If you’re HIV negative and you’re on PrEP, it doesn’t pose a risk, you can’t give HIV,” emphasizes Pruden. This statement challenges societal norms, prompting a national conversation about the necessity of disclosure in a world where medical advancements have transformed the landscape.

Pruden underscores the importance of inclusivity in accessing preventive measures. “For those not First Nations or Inuit relatives who are not covered under FNIB, there’s a government program you can access PrEP through.” This call for inclusivity extends to all individuals, fostering a sense of community and shared responsibility in the fight against HIV.

In an intriguing revelation, Pruden introduces the potential benefits of doxycycline, not only as a syphilis treatment but also as a daily safeguard. “Doxycycline is a syphilis treatment, but what they’re thinking is that 10 milligrams of doxycycline taken every day protects you from syphilis.” This innovative approach opens new avenues for protective measures against sexually transmitted infections, providing a holistic perspective on sexual health.

Harlan Pruden concludes with hopefulness about ongoing efforts in HIV awareness – a future liberated from the shadows of fear and stigma, where individuals can navigate relationships with confidence and shared responsibility.

The new narratives of U=U and the protective embrace of PrEP herald a new chapter in HIV awareness – one where individuals are not defined by their status but by their resilience, empowerment, and the potential for a future liberated from the shadows of fear and stigma. Organizations like HIV Edmonton and the unique challenges faced by Métis and Indigenous  communities contribute to the broader conversation, emphasizing the need for inclusive healthcare and continued awareness efforts.

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