Although much progress has been made in the fight against HIV/AIDS, some patients face barriers beyond accessing medication.
“Carlos” is one such patient. He has been living with HIV for nearly 20 years and visits the MUHC’s Chronic Viral Illness Service (CVIS) clinic on a regular basis for ongoing treatment.
He is also a refugee from Rwanda who came to Canada to work and send money to his family back home. When he can’t work, he can barely support himself.
“Any time you get sick suddenly,” he said. “If you have plans and say this year I want to make this kind of money and then suddenly I become sick I'll be sitting home three or four months.”
On more than one occasion social worker Claire Duscheneau has had to step in to help Carlos.
“In the 30 years I've worked in HIV I've dealt with a lot of poverty,” she said. “But in the last few months I've had patients say to me ‘I'm hungry.’ I've never heard patients openly say to me ‘I'm hungry.’”
The CVIS clinic serves more than 2000 people and nearly 1/3 are migrants. In recognizing the special needs of migrants and refugees living with HIV, staff members have set up a fund to help.
They say the needs at the clinic are growing but there aren’t enough resources to meet the demand.
“Most of our patients struggle with psycho-social problems, with economic problems, and you have to help them,” said Dr. Bertrand Lebouché.. “If they don't have enough money for food or for housing security, the HIV treatment will not be able to help them.”
The goal of the fund is to help to cover some of the unexpected costs their clients face—everything from housing to bus fare.
A special fundraising concert is taking place at the Rialto Theatre on Tuesday night, featuring contemporary singer Barbara Lewis. All proceeds will go to support individuals living with HIV/AIDS who are followed at the CVIS.