Langara College continued efforts to help de-stigmatize and raise awareness about sexual health concerns, particularly HIV, by hosting its second sexual health fair in the main foyer of Building A on March 20.
The first sexual health fair held in February was very popular, mainly because it was the first time that the 60-second HIV test had been available at Langara. The demand for the test exceeded its availability.
“Each person that comes to us for HIV testing is given an opportunity to bring up other concerns and is offered further STI testing,” said Susan Kensett from student health services.
“It was very well received the first time, so we thought while we have the momentum and the interest, we would go for another one,” said Kensett.
Feedback from students and organizations very positive
“All of [the participants] told us that it was a very good experience and very worthwhile and they were all very enthusiastic about coming back,” said Kensett.
Eunice Uy and Roxanne Castillo, third year nursing students who helped with the HIV testing at the last fair in February, were once again participating.
“I felt great helping out, [but] it was definitely quite tiring being at the registration desk as students did not stop coming [all day],” said Uy.
Both nursing students added that getting tested is a personal and responsible decision.
“It’s good to be aware of your status, especially if you’re engaging in higher risk activities,” said Castillo.
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The second sexual health fair at Langara on March 20 was extremely well attended and offered on-the-spot HIV testing conducted by nursing students. Several community groups were also in attendance at the fair, promoting awareness and sexual health related information. Photos: Dennis Page.
Fair boosted by outside organizations
Community organizations such as Positive Women’s Network, Options for Sexual Health, YouthCo AIDS Society and HIM (Health Initiatives for Men) were participants in the fair and handed out brochures and pamphlets helping to inform students about the various agencies and sexual health concerns.
Handing out “I love safer sex” stickers to help attract students to her booth, Yoshiko Nonaka, a volunteer with AIDS Vancouver, pointed out that “most people love sex, so make sure you protect yourself and get tested regularly.”
She also said that in Japan people don’t talk openly about sex and that events like this fair were great at raising awareness. She expressed that sex should be enjoyed, not scary, so being informed and safe are both important.
“When you have sex there is the risk of pregnancy as well as disease so each person has to take responsibility,” said Nonaka.
Sam Larkham was on hand representing HIM, a social support and sexual testing group for gay males. He was intent on informing students about his organization’s services, including the “What’s Your Number” sexual health quiz on HIM’s website that helps people determine how often they should be getting tested. The organization also offers email and text message reminders to go get tested.
On the support side of HIM’s work, Larkham pointed out, “I think a lot of gay guys, when they come out, don’t really feel connected to other gay guys and that’s not really good for their mental health. So we provide a safe place for meeting and social events and help guys connect.”
Larkham stressed the importance of being informed about sexual health.
“The more you’re aware of what’s going on and the more you get tested, the more your taking care of your health,” he said.
Positive Living Society
At the Positive Living Society booth, Mark Haggerty, who is one of the society’s 5,000 members, pointed out that the main focus of coming to an event like Langara’s sexual health fair is to put a face to the issue of HIV/AIDS.
Haggerty handed out issues of Positive Living, a magazine focused on those living with the HIV virus. He also talked about some of the changes he’s seen over the last 25 years since he was first diagnosed with the virus.
“When I was first diagnosed, I was taking 20 pills a day. Now I take four pills a day and for me personally there are no side effects. Before there were a lot of side effects with the medications. AIDS is now a treatable chronic illness like diabetes. It’s not the death sentence it used to be,” said Haggerty.
Events such as Langara’s sexual health fair are part of a provincial initiative to help identify people who have HIV but are unaware. The goal of the initiative is to curb the growth of HIV/AIDS infections as well as to increase treatment availability to those affected. The B.C. government has committed $48 million in funding over four years to support the initiative in its pilot phase.
Reported by Dennis Page