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Casey House Spa aims to break down stigma that leaves people with HIV untouchable

Cheryl Ubelaker, Canadian Press

Posted on November 30, 2018 12:35 pm EST

Updated Friday, November 30, 2018 12:36 PM EST

TORONTO – Randy Davis recalls that shortly after he was diagnosed with HIV, Randy Davis recalls how the hostess welcomed the sequence of guests, giving everyone a warm hug. But when his turn came, the woman's hand rose, and she suggested that he should not get too close, because she had a cold.

“Their reason not to hug me is to protect me from their cold,” said Davis, who was open about his HIV status. "But all night they still embrace other people."

It was a lesson, as if Davis needed it, about the continuing stigmatization of those who had HIV / AIDS, based on the fears of many people that they were somehow at risk of becoming infected through simple touch.

And this belief is that Casey House, an autonomous HIV-AIDS hospital in Toronto, hopes to help dissipate with a pop-up spa that offers free massages for the general public, provided by HIV-positive volunteers trained in healing art,

Healing House, working on Friday and Saturday (World AIDS Day) in a separate place in downtown Toronto, aims to involve members of the public in discussions about the myth that shake hands, touch their bare hands or embrace, are potential means for infecting the virus.

Along with this, the spa is a reminder of the need and strength of touch.

“It really creates a connection between a person and another, and this ensures that we do not feel lonely,” said Joan Symons, CEO of Casey House, which was founded in 1988 to care for the sick.

“This is the warmth of human skin on your skin, which makes us feel comfortable and comfortable, safe and safe and loved,” she said. "Without this, I think this is a very lonely world."

Nonetheless, people with HIV are often denied this experience — a fact confirmed in Leger’s survey for Casey House, who found that although 91 percent of Canadians believe that human nature wants to feel a touch, only 38 percent of respondents said ready to share skin-to-skin contact with anyone diagnosed with a virus.

While Americans are slightly more likely to touch someone with HIV / AIDS (41 percent), more than a quarter of respondents in a separate American survey believe that they can become infected with HIV through skin-skin interaction, compared to one fifth of Canadians.

“This is very hard for the human spirit – and we know that this is so important,” said Simons. “So it was a push for a public conversation about HIV to try to defy people's thinking and behavior.”

To this end, Casey House hired Melissa Doldron, a registered massage therapist for the Toronto Blue Jays, to teach 15 HIV-positive volunteers the basics of therapy.

Doldron said that members of the public can choose a 10-minute hand and arm massage or register for a chair massage, which includes stress relief using the back, neck, shoulders and scalp.

According to her, massage has numerous benefits throughout the body, stimulating the vascular, lymphatic and neurological systems, and also provides stress relief and relaxation.

“Thus, massage helps physically and psychologically. For everyone who is dealing with the disease, the benefits are twofold. "

Davis, who works as the sexual health coordinator for men at the Gilbert Center in Barry, Ont, where she lives with her husband, believes that touch is important for everyone who is HIV-infected or not.

“I remember when I was diagnosed for the first time, the first thing that got into my head, and I was alone at the time, is that I will be left alone for the rest of my life, and no one will ever love me, not to mention about touching me or hugging me, ”said Davis, who volunteered to be one of the healers at the Casey House event.

“When I revealed my status, many people close to me were warm and caring, but my acquaintances, medical workers and people who didn’t know me well showed clear signs of discomfort and justified me not to touch me.”

Nearly 40 years after the beginning of the once-deadly AIDS epidemic, the fear that someone can become infected only through casual contact is still delayed. However, for many people, modern antiviral drugs can reduce the level of HIV in the body to undetectable levels, which makes it extremely unlikely that it can transmit the virus to another person even through sex.

Davis, who began taking antiviral drugs shortly after he was diagnosed in early 2015, considers HIV a chronic disease that is easily controlled for him. "I take a pill daily and that's it."

His hope for a pop-up spa lies in the fact that people will come not only for a massage, but also to learn about people living with HIV – “so that they feel comfortable and understand that, you know that we do not risk anyone. "

“This is a big thing for me. This is not the virus with which we need to fight, it is a stigma with which we need to fight. ”

A survey of 1,581 Canadians and 1501 Americans was recently conducted using the Leger, LegerWeb online panel. Probabilistic samples of the same size give an error of approximately plus or minus 2.5%, 19 times out of 20.

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