Dr. Carrie Bourassa Helping Women With HIV/Aids and Hepatitis C

Dr. Carrie Bourassa is a Professor of Indigenous Health Studies and has been faculty at First Nations University since August 2001. She is an Indigenous community-based researcher that works with, by, and for Indigenous communities. She is working on a new project, culturally-safe health care for Indigenous women infected with HIV/AIDS and Hepatitis C.

“The goal of this research is to create a model of culturally-safe care for Indigenous women infected with HIV, AIDS and/or Hepatitis C from their perspective. Only they know what will work for them and what it should look like. Our goal is to listen to their voices, their experiences, their perspectives and build that model together and then implement it so that research becomes action and improves the quality of care they experience.”

Carrie Bourassa

Carrie Bourassa

HIV/AIDS have spread through native communities over the last 20 years, there are many factors to blame including poverty, convicts returning from jail, dirty needles used to ingest heroin and cocaine. “According to the 2006 census data 36% of Aboriginal women were living in poverty compared to non-Aboriginal women in Canada (Aboriginal Affairs and Northern Development Canada, 2012).

Indigenous women also experience barriers to personal empowerment, including the impact of racism that is linked to higher rates of alcohol and substance abuse, and disruption of family systems due to residential school abuse. We must illuminate the impacts of colonization on Indigenous women and how that continues to affect this population living with HIV or AIDS and/or Hepatitis C Virus (HCV). In essence, we truly must “dig deep” to understand why HIV/AIDS has become so prevalent in Indigenous communities and focus on the assets in our communities in order to move forward in a good way.

Hepatitis C which is also the result of dirty needles and liver problems is also on the rise in native communities “While HCV (Hepatitis C) infections are not evenly distributed among sub-populations in Canada, a recent study conducted by the Public Health Agency of Canada (2010) suggests that HCV rates are higher among Indigenous people in Canada. Reported rates of HCV between 2002 and 2008 found that HCV among Indigenous people in Canada was 4.7 times higher than other ethnicities. In addition, 48.7% of HCV cases among Indigenous persons were female compared to 33.9% being female among other ethnicities. This is also in contrast to the general Canadian population where the male HCV infection rate is nearly twice the female infection rate. The report also found that risk factors such as use of contaminated needles or equipment to inject drugs continue to be frequently associated with HCV transmission.

The Project will take 3 years to complete, and there are specific goals that are to be dealt with. “Our goal is to focus on Indigenous women with the premise of helping them to develop evidence-based, community and asset-based solutions that are culturally safe. Our specific objectives include:

1) Understanding the complex Indigenous social determinants of health that interact to produce higher rates of IDU, HIV/AIDS, and HCV among Indigenous women, particularly those who are identified as hard to engage and those who have not been tested.

2) Developing a model of culturally safe care.

3) Increasing the research capacity of All Nations Hope Network (ANHN) – formerly All Nations Hope AIDS Network (ANHAN) and the broader Indigenous community in Regina (pilot site).

4) Developing educational videos to accompany the culturally safe care model and enhancing the understanding of cultural safety for Indigenous women living with HIV, AIDS and HCV.

“Our team feels it is important to focus this first phase of our research on the most marginalized population and engage men and family in later phases or another program of research.” The goals are to illuminate:

  • How the has the history of Indigenous women influenced/continued to influence their life decisions?
  • What supports and programs do they currently have access to?
  • What supports and programs would  they like to have access to?
  • What has helped them to cope with the challenges in their lives?
  • In what way is historic and inter-generational trauma linked to the high rates of addiction, HIV, AIDS and HCV among Indigenous women?
  • How do we use an evidence-informed, community-based, asset-based, culturally safe approach to address such complex issues?