From pregnancy planning for young couples to culturally sensitive research for Aboriginal people, the Women and HIV Research Program at Women’s College Research Institute is engaging underserved people and targeting their unique needs.
New HIV Pregnancy Planning Guidelines
“Many Canadians living with well-managed HIV are in their child-bearing years, and they’re healthy and ready to have children,” says Women’s College scientist and physician Dr. Mona Loutfy, who is also an associate professor of medicine at the University of Toronto.
Even though there are safe ways for these couples to complete healthy pregnancies, the medical community has generally discouraged them from having children. Loutfy has been one of the few to advocate fertility clinics to provide evidence-based guidance to couples living with HIV.
“Historically, there were not a lot of fertility options available for HIV-positive women or partners of HIV-positive men,” explains Margolese. “Many clinics would see them and not want to help them.”
In June, Loutfy and her team – including community advocate Shari Margolese –published the Canadian HIV Pregnancy Planning Guidelines. The first of their kind, the guidelines aim to break down the stigma surrounding HIV and pregnancy, and include consideration of same-sex couples and individuals.
The guidelines were published in partnership with the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada, the Canadian Fertility and Andrology Society and the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network. They were developed by the Canadian HIV Pregnancy Planning Guideline Development Team Core Working Group and reviewed by the Infectious Diseases Committee and the Reproductive Endocrinology and Infertility Committee of the Society of Obstetricians and Gynaecologists of Canada.
Working with Aboriginal women to reduce HIV
Women account for 48 per cent of Aboriginal people living in Canada who test positive for HIV, compared to 20 per cent in the non-Aboriginal population. Yet studies focused on the concerns of Aboriginal women in the context of HIV infection are scarce.
Women’s College postdoctoral fellow Dr. Anita C. Benoit is doing research that will help to improve HIV services, so that they better target and support Aboriginal women.
“In one of my pilot projects, I’m working to identify the stressors that Aboriginal women living with HIV face daily,” says Benoit. “We’re hoping to design a stress-reducing therapeutic intervention that will allow Aboriginal women to practice traditional healing approaches in addition to conventional stress-management approaches.”
What makes the study unique from other stress management interventions is that it’s informed by the community, in partnership with Aboriginal women, community groups, researchers and allied researchers. Benoit explains.
“The women are very engaged with this initiative,” says Benoit, “they have provided important feedback throughout the study that will help to inform future phases of the research project.”