An advocate for First Nations people living with HIV wants to see more help for people diagnosed with the disease so they can stay in their home communities.
Lac Seul First Nation member Rene Boucher, who was diagnosed with HIV nearly 20 years ago, was the guest speaker at a Friday AIDS awareness breakfast in Thunder Bay.
"For me it was very scary because I didn't know what it meant, I had no clue what HIV was," he said.
"I'd seen things on billboards, I'd seen information, but I didn't think it impacted me. So when I was diagnosed, I was very afraid."
Now Boucher himself appears on billboards to spread the word about preventing HIV. But he said more needs to be done to help people with the disease living on reserve.
He said he recently received funding for a conference that will look at what supports are needed to help First Nations people living with HIV stay at home in their communities, close to family and friends.
Currently some First Nations people with HIV are reluctant to disclose their diagnosis because they know it means leaving everything that they know to come to the city for treatment, he noted.
Boucher’s own experience has taught him to be "hopeful."
"I was fortunate enough to be well enough to be able go on [antiretroviral drugs]," he said adding that it’s important "to take the time to remember someone who may have passed away from AIDS and to honour those who continue to do the hard work around care, treatment and prevention of HIV."