Aug 2021 | Community Profiles
With a long history of providing stigma-free healthcare to vulnerable populations, AVI Health Centre Nanaimo is part of a larger organization. The AVI Health and Community Services Society (formerly AIDS Vancouver Island), that provides a range of services across Vancouver Island to local, at-risk populations.
AVI began in September of 1985 by five gay men (Wayne Cook, Don MacIver, Roy Salonin, John Spencer, and Grant Sullivan) as an act of self-preservation. They acted as part of a larger movement of solidarity of gay and trans people across North America to take healthcare into their community’s own hands. This was at a time when large numbers of gay men and trans women were dying across the continent while governments, communities, health authorities, hospitals, and drug companies were discriminating against gay and trans people, and moving slowly to create appropriate services and medications to control HIV and stop the death rate created by the AIDS pandemic.
In downtown Nanaimo, AVI has been hard at work for 25 years, with a health equity and social justice approach.
What AVI offers now
AVI continues to focus its clinical, education, social programming, and outreach services with individuals and communities most at risk of contracting HIV and sexually transmitted infections. AVI also expanded its focus several years ago to include HCV, because it directly relates to the infectious disease prevention work that it was already doing and disproportionately affects many of the same communities.
Currently, Nanaimo’s AVI Health Centre provides a range of supports. These include low-barrier substance use care such as free safer drug use and harm reduction supplies, various Opioid Agonist Treatments (OAT), alcohol treatment, and safer pharmaceutical alternatives.
It also provides TasP HIV primary care, HIV prevention (PrEP and PEP), HCV treatment, gender-affirming care, a range of STBBI (sexually transmitted and blood-borne infection) services and supports, counselling, health care navigation support, outreach services, life skills training, community building and social programming, health promotion and education services, and free safer sex supplies.
What AVI aims to do
AVI functions both as a clinic and a community centre, aiming to address physical health, mental wellness, social inclusion, and the social determinants of health.
The centre supports queer, gay, bi, trans, two-spirit, and gender non-binary communities, people who use substances and/or alcohol, people who engage in sex work, people who are homeless or marginally housed, all people who are affected by stigma and systemic discrimination within the health care system, and all people at increased risk of STBBIs, HIV, HCV, and/or fatal toxic drug poisoning.
It also works to meaningfully connect with Nanaimo’s urban Indigenous population, Snuneymuxw and Coast Salish people. AVI staff has built long-standing relationships with many vulnerable individuals and communities throughout the years of AVI’s operation as a community health centre.
AVI chose to become a Nanaimo Homeless Coalition member to provide greater access to its community-led, culturally safer health services. It also aims to advocate for those without homes or who are marginally housed and need access to high-quality, stigma-free healthcare.
AVI plans to push for appropriate, long-term housing for people of all income levels in Nanaimo. AVI Health Centre would like to support the same people that it currently supports, but in housing – not in the streets.