Toronto
3 min

You’ve tested positive. Now what?

Get information & support fast, without overloading yourself

Step by step. Remember to eat well. Credit: Xtra files

Testing positive for HIV is something few of us plan for. However, even though AIDS isn’t inevitable, you, a friend, lover may test positive for HIV in the future. This resource guide will direct you to appropriate help quickly.



Although most people receive counselling when they receive HIV test results, it takes a while for the complexity of HIV infection to sink in. Navigating through the enormous amount of good, bad and controversial information about AIDS health care is tough. Dealing with that while you’re considering disclosing your status to family, friends and lovers can create a mental and emotional overload. So if you test HIV positive, keep asking yourself, What do I need most right now?



Talking to a trained counsellor will help transform a crisis into smaller, manageable problems. Call or drop by the AIDS Committee Of Toronto (340-2437; TTY 340-8122), or the Toronto People With AIDS Foundation (506-1400). Both organizations are located at 399 Church St.



ACT and the PWA foundation can help you focus on some of your initial needs, offer emotional support and guide you to resources and other appropriate organizations. ACT also has a resource centre and an excellent range of information packages available in the reception area.



Voices Of Positive Women (324-8703 and 1-800-263-0961; 66 Isabella St) is an important complementary organization for women because so little AIDS information or research addresses women’s’ bodies, needs and concerns.



Some organizations that address the needs of specific ethno-cultural groups include: Alliance For South Asian AIDS Prevention (599-2727; 20 Carlton St), Asian Community AIDS Services (963-4300; 33 Isabella St), Africans In Partnership Against AIDS (924-5256; 14 College St), the Black Coalition For AIDS Prevention (977-9955; 790 Bay St) and Native Canadians can access AIDS services through 2-Spirited People Of The 1st Nations (944-9300; 45 Charles St E).



For other services, check out ACT’s web site at www.actoronto.org. Beware of the May 1996 Living Guide, created by ACT and the HIV/AIDS Cultural Network of Metropolitan Toronto And Surrounding Area. Many listings are out of date, although the descriptions of agencies are still helpful.



The AIDS and Sexual Health Infoline (392-2437 and 1-800-668-2437; for service in French, call 1-800-267-7432). The line offers information and referrals in Armenian, Cantonese, Mandarin, Dutch, German, Hebrew, Hungarian, Italian, Pilipino, Spanish, Swahili and other languages. Call for the current schedule for each language.



ACT’s Information And Support Hotline (340-8844) is an anonymous way to get help. Or call CATIE, the Community AIDS Treatment Information Exchange (944-1916 and 1-800-263-1638). Trained treatment information consultants provide advice on how to access AIDS services across Canada and also provide an extensive range of treatment information.



CATIE has an excellent web site with information in French and English at www.catie.ca and it will also mail, e-mail, or fax you information and publications for free. For the unwired, computer access is available at ACT and many public libraries.



Some of the best information for someone who’s just tested positive is contained in A Practical Treatment Guide For People Living With HIV Disease. This CATIE publication is also on their web site. The guide offers excellent suggestions for figuring out if your doctor will properly help you manage your health care. It also helps you establish a cautious framework for making treatment decisions.



“People who test HIV-positive now are confronted with the difficult decision about whether of not to start antiretroviral therapy quickly. There is still debate among doctors, drug companies, and activists about when to start this kind of therapy, with some people advocating immediate treatment after HIV infection. Depending on your doctor, you may be asked to make an informed decision about using protease inhibitors right away,” says Derek Thaczuk, treatment resources coordinator at the PWA foundation.



Look for the section Choosing Complementary Therapies And Therapists in the CATIE guide, too. A new CATIE publication on this issue will be available in the spring.



Alternative therapies, such as acupuncture or naturopathy, can be expensive. Other therapies may even be dangerous, or fraudulent, so be careful. Figure out what you’re hoping to get out of the treatment you’re considering. Find out if your expectations are realistic by getting information from CATIE and other sources. Ask the therapist how much experience, knowledge, and training they have with HIV. Talk with other PWAs who have gone to the same therapist. The CATIE guide includes a complete list of questions to ask yourself and your therapist.



ACT and the PWA foundation have lists of HIV primary care physicians and complementary therapists. The foundation also runs a free naturopathic clinic staffed by senior students of the Canadian College Of Naturopathic Medicine. The clinic helps reduce the cost of therapy, but it does not cover prescriptions. There is also a free massage clinic staffed by students in the Kikkawa College massage therapy program.



For some, there is a lot of shame related to HIV infection, so maintaining or improving your mental health is important. Good mental health specialists or groups will help you deal with the emotional impact of HIV infection.



There are a wide range of psychiatrists, psychotherapists, counsellors, support groups and workshops in the Toronto area. Ask your doctor or your AIDS service organisation for referrals. Or contact Mount Sinai Hospital’s Clinic For HIV Related Concerns (586-8714; 600 University Ave).



Developing an emotional support network that combines friends, family and health care professionals is part of a solid foundation for dealing with HIV.