Nelson Joins Province Wide Program to Bring HIV Under Control
Standing at 6″5 with a neon red Interior Health vest, Robin Van Stolk is hard to miss.
As a health outreach nurse, Van Stolk meets his patients where they are at. One day he might be walking the back alleys of Grand Forks, the next driving up a dirt road outside of Meadow Creek.
Van Stolk works for the Nelson chapter of STOP (Seek and Treat for Optimal Prevention) HIV program. STOP is a pilot program operating out of Interior Health that seeks to create an AIDS-free BC.
“HIV is different now”, said Van Stolk as we strolled down Baker Street on one of his community rounds. “
With early detection and proper treatment, living with HIV can be more manageable than diabetes.”
STOP is a province-wide initiative that aims to reduce HIV transmission by encouraging routine testing for all adults.
“With HIV, early detection equals prevention,” said Van Stolk. “Transmission rates decrease by up to 96 percent when on treatment, and it can also prevent the virus from being passed on from mother to child during pregnancy.”
Along with providing testing, treatment, and support services, Van Stolk travels to schools, community centers, and people’s homes to offer education. “
There is still a lot of stigma surrounding HIV,” said Van Stolk as he packed his portable case of testing equipment, brochures, and condoms in his Nelson office.
“When the HIV epidemic began in the 1980’s there was a lot of fear because people didn’t understand how it was transmitted. HIV was associated with homosexuality, drug use, sex work, and infidelity. In the 80’s if you had HIV, it meant you were doing something morally wrong -there was a lot of blame. Now we know that isn’t true, HIV/AIDS affects everyone, everywhere.”
“The good news,” said Van Stolk, “is that with new medications HIV is no longer a life-threatening disease. Routine testing allows us to catch the virus early on before it moves into the AIDS phase, and allows people living with HIV to live long, healthy lives, and protect their families from transmission.”
Recently, Van Stolk has been meeting with healthcare workers throughout the Kootenay Boundary region to encourage them to include HIV testing as part of routine medical screenings in hospitals, doctor’s offices, and walk-in clinics.
“The more people who get tested, the more likely we are to see an AIDS-free B.C.”, concluded Van Stolk as he picked up his bulky travel case and prepared to take to the streets.
HIV testing is free and confidential.
Van Stolk encourages people to request an HIV test from their doctor or to contact a health outreach nurse to arrange testing. To arrange an HIV test with a health outreach nurse call 1-866-778-7736.
For more information on HIV testing visit http://www.myhealthissexy.com.