While HIV is often perceived as a predominantly urban issue, there is an increasing amount of qualitative and anecdotal evidence that demonstrates that HIV strongly affects Rural and Remote populations in Canada. Because “invisibility, isolation, and stigma are common in rural regions of Canada,” people who are living with HIV in Rural and Remote regions often face important concerns when it comes to accessing confidential care and support.
Moreover, given the lack of basic and sexual health services in many Rural and Remote regions, let alone specialized HIV care, it is not uncommon for people who are living with HIV to have to leave their communities to access the services they require. However, as a key informant who participated in a CAS-led project on HIV vaccine preparedness notes: “If I was out in the small community, where the heck am I going to go … if I’m poor and I’m not working, how am I going to get to town?”
Rural and Remote populations also face important issues in relation to HIV prevention. Misconceptions persist that HIV doesn’t exist in Rural and Remote communities or that it only affects certain populations. A key informant in the aforementioned project reminds us that “people don’t think that there’s anyone with HIV here… they still think that HIV is a ‘gay’ disease.” Similarly, a recent study published in the Journal of Rural Health showed that among a surveyed group of 1,777 rural Canadians, almost “25 percent thought that the disease was transmitted through casual contact.”Again, lack of access to confidential or anonymous services may limit people’s ability to access HIV preventive information and tools, or to undergo HIV testing.
by Kim Thomas and Sue Scruton