Public health researchers launch first Canadian study on couples with different HIV statuses

November 29/2016

December 1 is World AIDS Day — the longest-running global health day. Held every year since 1988, the date provides an opportunity for the world to show its support for people living with HIV and remember those who died. The University of Toronto has hosted World AIDS Day events since 2004 and this year’s theme is Disclosure: HIV/AIDS in the 21st Century.

This theme is particularly relevant for Thom and Vajdon, who have been together for 17 years t-and-vand are in what scientists call a serodiscordant relationship — where one partner is HIV-positive and the other is HIV-negative.

“There are a lot of us out here, living full and loving lives. Sticking by each other no matter what,” said Thom, a writer, actor and educator who is HIV-positive and lives in Toronto with his partner Vajdon, a PhD student.

This summer, U of T’s Dalla Lana School of Public Health launched the first Canadian study about HIV-serodiscordant relationships, which are increasingly common since people with HIV are living longer lives and have more opportunity for longer relationships. According to the Ontario HIV Treatment Network Cohort Study, 23 per cent of HIV-positive people reported an HIV-negative regular partner.

People in HIV-serodiscordant relationships face many unique challenges, including stigma and the risk of transmission between partners, but scientists, policy-makers and service providers know relatively little about how these factors affect people.

That’s why DLSPH researcher Liviana Calzavara launched the Canada-wide study, Positive Plus pp1-postcards
, which brings together a diverse team of community members, AIDS service organizations and clinicians. The results will inform healthcare professionals, service providers, policy-makers, those living in HIV-serodiscordant relationships and society, with the aim of improving knowledge and services for HIV-positive people and their HIV-negative partners.

For the study to be successful, researchers must hear the voices of both partners to get the perspectives of both HIV-positive and HIV-negative persons.

Thom and Vajdon hope the study will help to reduce stigma through awareness and education.

“While the consequences of stigma are better known for positive people, their negative partners are deeply affected, too,” said Vajdon. “It’s important to highlight the experiences of negative partners, and ensure that HIV support programs and policies take their needs into account.”

Professor Calzavara, a faculty member at U of T since 1984, is an HIV/AIDS research pioneer. Calzavara_LivianaShe oversaw the Toronto Sexual Contact Study, the first cohort study to examine the natural history of HIV infection and the role of sexual risk behaviours. She also co-developed and co-taught the first HIV/AIDS course offered at U of T.

Together with a number of HIV/AIDS researchers at DLSPH, including Professors Ted Myers and Dan Allman, Professor Calzavara has led significant international research into the behavioural determinants of HIV transmission among men who have sex with men.

Positive Plus One is interested in hearing from people in serodiscordant relationships from many different backgrounds — of all genders, ethnicities, sexual identities and regions of the country. Click here for more information.