Casey House creates fictitious drug, Stigmavir, to smash HIV stigma within the health care system

Casey House – a hospital unlike any other providing care to those living with and at risk of HIV – today announces the launch of its latest advocacy campaign, Stigmavir. This initiative aims to reach health care practitioners and introduces a ‘fictitious’ anti-viral drug named Stigmavir, designed to treat HIV stigma. Stigma in health care is harming people living with HIV, with one in five people living with HIV being denied. The campaign includes an upbeat musical public service announcement (PSA), set to a musical adaptation of the iconic song “I Will Survive” with rights provided by Gloria Gaynor herself.

“Even in spaces run by people educated about health, HIV stigma persists. The Stigmavir campaign marks the next chapter in our longstanding Smash Stigma initiative to eradicate HIV stigma,” says Joanne Simons, Casey House CEO. “Stigma remains a significant barrier for individuals living with HIV seeking access to health care. This year we’re inviting other health care providers to join us in the mission to create positive health care spaces that are informed, sensitive, inclusive, and inquisitive rather than assumptive. Everyone deserves health care that meets their needs, treats them with respect and maintains confidentiality.”

For people living with HIV, stigma is one of the most reported barriers to accessing health care. Disclosure to medical professionals can result in stares, microaggressions, and even denial of care, particularly during vulnerable moments like emergency or mental health care. Experiences of prejudice, discrimination, and stigma can cause patients to internalize this negativity, leading to a higher risk of depression and worse health outcomes, such as a delayed diagnosis.

“Despite the scientific advancements in health care and increased knowledge of HIV, unfortunately stigma still exists,” says Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health who is recognizing the hospital’s Stigmavir initiative for its innovative approach. “Health care leaders like Casey House play a crucial role in educating Canada’s health care providers on what stigma-free care truly involves. Initiatives like Stigmavir not only raise awareness of overlooked issues but also empower health care providers with the essential tools and resources to offer compassionate care to their patients.”

Casey House is leading the charge against HIV stigma in health care by inviting health care practitioners to join the movement in creating compassionate spaces for those living with or at risk of HIV. While Stigmavir is fictitious, it is an invitation to think about the way everyone in health care engages with people living with HIV; to reconsider how small actions can impact the people receiving care. What does health care look like without HIV stigma? Patients can build a trusting relationship with a health care provider, look forward to consistent treatment, and feel safe as they pursue good health. Casey House has also created a campaign website that offers health care providers additional resources on delivering compassionate care to those living with or at risk of HIV.

“People still don’t like having positive people around, and also it’s hard that we’re still facing stigma from health care practitioners,” says Yasir, a documentary participant involved in the project. “This message is important because it not only invites health care providers to provide compassionate care and recognize unconscious biases, but also shares stories from HIV+ individuals and their experiences of receiving equitable care.”

Additionally, Casey House has created an HIV Stigma-Free symbol, similar to LGBTQ+ signage seen in the windows of businesses, available for download by health care practitioners. This symbol, accompanied by a toolkit of resources, will signify their efforts to provide stigma-free care for individuals living with HIV.

“This marks the fifth iteration of Casey House’s #SmashStigma campaign, which has become the largest and mot impactful campaign combatting stigma globally,” says Joseph Bonnici, CCO for Bensimon Byrne’s parent company, Tadiem. “This year we opted to infuse a lighter tone into the serious issue of stigma faced by people living with HIV. The campaign is designed to educate health care practitioners in the right voice, but also be engaging and entertain them in order to change behaviours. The Stigmavir campaign is designed to go beyond awareness of the problem, to create action. We want health care practitioners to participate in creating stigma free spaces.”

Join us. Consider whether Stigmavir is right for you and help Casey House improve health care experiences for people living with HIV. Spread awareness by sharing on social media using #smashstigma and to learn more.

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