30 Faces of HIV – Seven

By Shayne Woodsmith, Faces of Edmonton

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“In 1983/84 I was on sabbatical in the UK at the world renowned STI clinic. It was over that period of time that HIV infections were recognized in California and there was lots of discussion about, ‘What do you think this is? Do you think any of us will be affected in terms of work by this strange disease?’ I came home that spring and all hell breaks loose. It was a tough time.”

“How are you associated with HIV Edmonton?”

“It’s a thirty-year story. My background is infectious disease and I’m a physician. In the early eighties I was running the sexually transmitted disease program for the province and so I saw and cared for the first HIV patients. I was the sole provider for the first five years of the epidemic. So I have lots of experience, lots of history through thirty years and the good times and the bad times. We have made lots of progress in good drugs—drugs that keep people healthy. We are now able to allow people to have healthy, unaffected babies which is wonderful. Also the risk of transmission is smaller but there’s still lots of hurdles. We don’t have a cure and sometimes the very vulnerable populations that have ongoing addiction problems don’t take their pills properly, and people are becoming a bit complacent. They think, ‘With HIV, there are good drugs. They’ll take care of me. It’s no big deal, so I really don’t have to practice safer sex anymore.’ So we’re seeing huge increases in other diseases like syphillis, which is a major major problem. HIV has taught me a lot. Not so much the disease but the people I have come in contact with. Early in the epidemic, I learned a lot from them about dying with dignity. I provided a lot of palliative care, which in med school you’re really not taught—at least not when I went to med school. I have a lot of respect for my patients and I think for most of them the feeling is mutual. So we have taken this long journey together, and have learned from each other.”

Photography Credit: Shayne Woodsmith
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