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Ottawa Welcomes New Health Service For ACB Community

Learn more about the Health Zone for African, Caribbean and Black community…

The ACB Health Zone is founded on the premise that the ACB (African, Caribbean and Black) community constitutes a population that experiences significant disparities in health and wellness. With this in mind, ACB Health Zone’s mission is to reduce the transmission of HIV and STIs among members of the ACB community by providing culturally appropriate and holistic services and programs that build community and enhance wellness.

The ACB Health Zone takes place every Monday evening from 5:00 to 8:00 pm at the Sandy Hill Community Health Centre in downtown Ottawa, and has been made possible thanks to the support of ViiV Healthcare Canada. IN Magazine talked with Haoua Inoua, manager of education and prevention of the Health Zone, to learn more about it.

What types of services are offered through this program?
The ACB Health Zone provides anonymous HIV testing and connection to primary care services, immigration/settlement support, and family and drop-in programming. The Zone also provides workshops and discussions on various topics such as mental health, stigma, employment, housing, racism, LGBTQ+ rights, ACB diet and nutrition, mindful meditation, art, and diabetes screening, as well as referrals to other community services and programs.

Why is it important to have a space like this in downtown Ottawa?
It creates accessibility for the ACB community to connect with social and health services in their neighbourhood free of stigma and discrimination. The ACB Health Zone is located in Lower Town Ottawa, where a significant number of ACB community members live. It’s important to be where people live, to make it easier and more accessible for them to connect.

Is the ACB Health Zone a solo project or a community effort?
It has been a complete community effort from the get-go. An initiative like this can’t be a solo effort, especially if it is going to be meaningful and relevant to the community. As the old saying goes, “It takes a village to raise a child.” This initiative has been led by community members and involves various stakeholders. We are proud to be facilitating this program.

Our core partners are Sandy Hill Community Health Centre, Somerset West Community Health Centre and Ottawa Public Health. Some of our program partners include Ottawa Newcomer Health Centre, Centretown Community Health Centre, Parents for Diversity, Youth Services Bureau and Bruce House. The majority of our volunteers at the Health Zone are ACB community members.

How did this important project come about?
It’s been a long journey. We had many consultations with various stakeholders and in January 2016, the AIDS Committee of Ottawa (ACO), together with the African-Caribbean Health Network of Ottawa (ACHNO), held focus groups to identify issues around HIV/sexual health in the ACB community and to assess the need for an ACB Health Zone in Ottawa. Those focus groups were in both English and French, and were composed of ACB community members (both those living with HIV and those not living with HIV), as well as service providers from both community-based and clinical settings in Ottawa.

From the beginning of the process, ACO and ACHNO worked directly and closely with members of the ACB community, as well as with other health and social service providers, to identify impacts of HIV and related issues/challenges. When a report of the focus group findings was published, it clearly indicated the need for an ACB Health Zone in Ottawa. This report was presented by one of our partners, Felicite Murangira, at our ACB Health Forum back in 2017, and in 2018 we proudly launched the ACB Health Zone to kick off AIDS Awareness Week.

What is the impact of the ACB Health Zone?
It has had a very positive impact on the community. Between January and June of 2019, 192 ACB community members were connected to some form of care, such as immigration/settlement support, the Ontario Disability Support Program or Ontario Works, housing support, rapid HIV tests, and primary care services.

The main impact has really been the building of a safe space for ACB community members, free of stigma and discrimination, where folks can come together and develop a sense of community through peer engagement and support, and feel empowered to prioritize their own health and social needs, all of which eventually goes well beyond the walls of the ACB Health Zone into the community.

We look forward to forging more partnerships and collaborations to further develop this important community health initiative.

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