A conversation with Asian Community AIDS Services and ViiV Healthcare on treatment access and innovation…
Asian Community AIDS Services (ACAS) is a charitable, non-profit, community-based organization located in Toronto. The organization provides safer-sex education and services to the East and Southeast Asian communities and support services to persons living with HIV/AIDS and members of the LGBTQ communities. ViiV Healthcare is the only pharmaceutical company solely focused on combating, preventing and ultimately curing HIV and AIDS to make sure no one living with HIV and AIDS is left behind.
We sat down with Marvelous Muchenje, at ViiV, and Kenneth Poon, at ACAS, to discuss treatment access, innovation and more.
What are some of the barriers that exist for people living with HIV (PLHIV) in Canada, in accessing treatment?
Marvelous Muchenje: HIV cannot become the “forgotten pandemic” – there’s too much at stake. There are still far too many people living with HIV who are not getting the right treatment today because of stigma, misinformation and financial barriers. We need more honest conversations and more innovation in this space to make HIV a smaller part of people’s lives.
Kenneth Poon: For the East and South East Asian community, language barriers, cultural safety and how to navigate the healthcare system are some of the many hurdles for our PLHIV. Especially, the COVID-19 pandemic overshadows the challenges in the HIV community.
What does the treatment landscape look like for PLHIV in 2021?
Muchenje: The fact is, 1.7 million new HIV infections are still recorded each year, so we need to recognize that innovation in HIV prevention is critical to ending the epidemic. The easier we can make it for people who live with HIV, the better. There have been some incredible breakthroughs to date, but I am sure that better, simpler treatment is always possible and always important.
Poon: HIV medication is constantly evolving, from multiple pills to one pill with three drugs to one pill daily, two drugs is already a great breakthrough. Now we’re talking about injectable drugs once every two months, which is an additional benefit for PLHIV who are facing some challenges in medication adherence or who require a lot of travel in their personal lives. The injectable drug provides a convenient way for PLHIV when it comes to their medication intake.
What role do healthcare providers play in ensuring PLHIV are able to access the right treatment for their unique needs?
Muchenje: Data from the ground-breaking Positive Perspectives Wave 2 report shows that those who were informed about Undetectable = Untransmittable (U=U) by their healthcare providers [HCPs] self-reported fewer health problems. Engaging in discussion with HCPs is essential because it allows PLHIV to be informed about other treatments that are right for them. The right to information is a fundamental right PLHIV have to receive optimal care.
Poon: By providing HIV-related educational workshops and HIV treatment updates to clients on a continuous basis, HCPs can [help] PLHIV to seek proper information and advocate for them to seek proper treatment information. Moreover, between HCPs and PLHIV, they need to find a way to build a trusting relationship in order for them to create a honest and healthy communication between them.
How is the community responding to gaps that exist in the healthcare system to ensure that all PLHIV are accessing and continuing treatment?
Muchenje: Access to treatment is a part of the solution, and we must continue to work in partnership with the HIV community to fight stigma and discrimination that hold PLHIV back from realizing their full potential. Every day we see countless examples from across Canada of AIDS-serving organizations stepping up to meet unmet needs when it comes to treatment uptake, housing, food security and other contributing factors.
Poon: Our PLHIV are facing many language barriers, [as well as] internal and external stigma. We use our peer coaches to empower them for one-on-one counselling and accompany them to appointments, and support them when they need translation services. Many clients are vulnerable in a sense under the social determinants of health. We provide financial assistance, prepare meals for those in need, [offer] capacity and skill building, and engage clients to attend educational workshops and social activities. We constantly encourage clients to stay in retention of care. Also, at ACAS a strong belief in a proactive holistic approach engages clients to take charge of their own self-care, such as providing massage, nutrition counselling and acupuncture treatment on a regular basis.
How is ViiV supporting PLHIV and the HIV community in securing better treatment?
Muchenje: Every day ViiV pushes further, not only in finding a cure, but also in empowering more communities through our Community Education and Services Grants to positively impact transmission rates and the stigma that far too many face. Around the world, 38 million PLHIV require innovative medicines, which is why everything we do is underpinned by cutting-edge science.
Poon: For the last 10 years, ViiV has been a generous sponsor to ACAS. ViiV supports our HIV-related educational workshops where we invite culturally appropriate presenters. They also support HIV prevention through their community educational grant by having our forum on Sex Love Asian Men and Pillow Talk for Women, which both aim to bring the community together sharing their knowledge and perspectives on HIV prevention, STI, U=U and gender identity.