Prevention targeting Haitian and African communities in Montreal

February 21th, 2010

Joseph Jean-Gilles is an expert and pioneer who has spearheaded the fight against HIV in Haitian and African communities in Quebec. He has been director general of GAP-VIES (Groupe d’Action pour la prévention de la transmission du VIH et l’éradication du sida)  for more than a decade.

Preventing the propagation of HIV in these communities is not an easy task. Joseph points out that HIV, like all matters of sexuality, remains a taboo subject. However, he mentions noting an interesting evolution in perception as the level of knowledge of new immigrants with respect to transmission channels and prevention methods has increased as a result of awareness-raising and prevention in their country of origin. However, differences in behaviour patterns and perception remain. While young immigrants are quite well informed, particularly through the internet, the older generation is more likely to entertain prejudice. Still, although there is no difference in knowledge levels between the sexes, upon arrival in Quebec, women try to learn more and as quickly as possible to protect their children and loved ones. There are clear differences in the level of knowledge between first-generation immigrants and their children and grandchildren born here. Indeed, “their perception differs from that of their parents because they were, or are, being educated here and are part of the same networks as the young people of Quebec extraction.” However, Joseph Jean-Gilles is worried: “Like all young Quebecers, they have not known AIDS. They have not developed safe protective practices.”

Networking is one approach favoured in reaching these communities whereby raising awareness and promoting prevention make use of social networks where young people congregate: churches, community media, hairstyling salons, garages, groups of taxi drivers, as well as sports and leisure centres.  Approaches differ markedly from case to case.  When awareness of the issue of HIV is raised among radio hosts and church leaders, for example, these highly influential leaders become relevant information agents. Elsewhere, stakeholders inform and create a new awareness. Through these targeted networks, GAP-VIES is starting to directly reach a population particularly difficult to reach – heterosexual males.

Through the network approach, target populations can be reached in an informal manner where they socialize. This is a form of intervention which will surely contribute to stopping HIV propagation in ethnic and cultural communities and making these communities aware of the reality of their brothers and sisters living with HIV.

René Légaré

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