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The Ontario AIDS Network (OAN): History And Membership

Learn more about the work that the OAN is doing for our community…

The OAN supports a diverse network of community-based organizations serving people living with HIV across the province. Formed at the height of the AIDS crisis in 1986, the OAN was created to increase the advocacy, information-sharing and peer support needed to address Ontario’s complex HIV epidemic.

Today, our network of 45 members, affiliates and partners plays an essential role in Ontario’s HIV response. We provide skills development and advocacy to make sure people living with HIV get the care and service they need and that the voice of Ontario’s HIV sector is heard. Part of this work includes leadership programs like our Positive Leadership Development Institute (PLDI).

The Positive Leadership Development Institute
With the support of ViiV Healthcare Canada, the PLDI creates diverse and inclusive networks of people living with HIV and prepares them to participate in and influence policy, programs and services within their local HIV sector. During a retreat-style gathering, students learn to realize their distinct leadership potential and expand their network by connecting with and mentoring others also living with HIV. The program is delivered thanks to additional support from the Public Health Agency of Canada and Federated Health Charities.

Our seat at the table: Creating the PLDI
We wanted to see more people living with HIV involved as leaders and key decision-makers influencing local policies, services and programs. Our goal was to create a safe space where people living with HIV could come together to support each other and develop themselves as emerging, visible leaders raising their voices locally and beyond.

In 2006, the PLDI program was born. Since then, it has grown in size and impact, expanding through partnerships in BC and Quebec. Today, nearly 1,000 people from across the country have graduated from the program and have gone on to paid employment, board of director positions and peer navigator roles.

The importance of peer experience
A peer-led program, the PLDI supports a diverse community of people living with HIV, each with their own unique lived experiences, to influence their community. Throughout the program, participants build resilience while cultivating leadership skills that align with their strengths and personal goals. Ongoing participation in the program reduces social isolation by increasing peer-to-peer social support through friendship and mutual understanding of what it’s like to live with HIV.

Graduates and students are empowered to view their experiences as a person living with HIV as valuable and vital to informing services and programs, and are encouraged to draw from that lived experience as they grow into local leadership and mentoring roles.

What we know for sure is that under supportive and empowering conditions, people living with HIV – including PLDI graduates and those within their networks – are likelier to engage healthcare providers and other wellness and social services, and, most importantly, to receive and continue HIV treatment.

Nothing about us without us: PLDI program benefits
Drawing from the history and evolution of the global and Canadian HIV/AIDS response, PLDI participants develop the skills needed to identify and address the social and systemic barriers that too often limit a person’s access to care and HIV treatment, learning to identify opportunities to get involved and make change.

Over the program’s past three years, participants have shown measurable increase in peer-to-peer leadership skills, applying those skills in their engagements with their local community. This includes roles on the board of their local AIDS service organization. What’s more, each year, more participants report improved access to health and social services.

Keeping connected during COVID-19
The arrival of COVID-19 sparked a fury of conversations and activity about how to support graduates throughout the pandemic. We began hosting national, virtual check-ins where PLDI graduates can connect, support one another, and talk about how to keep their work going. Now, six months into the pandemic, we are working to develop new COVID-19-specific virtual workshops focused on delivering the skills and support our graduates need right now.

What’s next for the OAN?
As the OAN continues to support PLDI students and graduates, and our members, we are also strengthening our commitments to Anti-Black Racism, Anti-Indigenous Racism and Reconciliation.

We know what needs to be done to halt new transmissions of HIV and to ensure the health of people living with HIV. That said, we must continue advocating for a well-funded and coordinated response that includes peer engagement programs like PLDI, as well as equitable policy and integrated services across healthcare and wellness providers.

Visit the OAN’s website to learn more about their work and the PLDI program.

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