HIV/AIDS Backgrounder: People living with HIV/AIDS

Key Messages:

There are over 18,000 people living with HIV/AIDS (PHAs) in Toronto. They represent different socio-economic and ethno-cultural backgrounds, sexual orientations, and age groups.

PHAs may face social and physical challenges that affect their health and well-being. These challenges take many forms: HIV-related stigma and discrimination, for example, can isolate PHAs from their communities, while periods of ill-health can make it difficult for some to maintain steady, full-time employment. Criminalization of HIV non-disclosure places further stigma on those living with HIV.

The needs of PHAs are increasingly complex. As people live longer with HIV, their social and physical challenges can become increasingly complicated and difficult to overcome. Social isolation, due not just to the stigma attached to HIV but to the gradual passing away of their peers, the side-effects of long-term medication use, and difficult-to-meet nutritional requirements — all of these things can have a negative impact on their well-being. Factors such as age, gender, sexual orientation, socio-economic status, and cultural background can further complicate the situation.

In spite of these barriers and challenges, PHAs have shown tremendous resilience in the face of HIV. For example, some PHAs are returning to work, volunteering within organizations, serving on the Boards of Directors of AIDS organizations, or taking steps to gain more active control over their health and well-being.

Holistic, client-centred programming makes for healthy PHAs. Because every PHA has a unique set of needs — social, physical, and practical — each benefits from programs and services that can be adapted to suit his or her specific situation. ACT’s service users have the option of working with a case manager to develop the schedule of programs and services that best suits their needs. ACT programming for PHAs includes counselling, support groups, health promotion (hot lunches, community forums, retreats), employment counselling and vocational training, and more. ACT works with other agencies to ensure that the city’s diverse population of PHAs has access to the best roster of services available to them.