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Casey House aims to break the stigma associated with HIV pop-up spa

Sheryl Ubelacker, Canadian Press

Posted Friday, November 30 2018 12:17 AM EST

TORONTO – Randy Davis remembers the presence of a social function shortly after diagnosing HIV and seeing how the housekeeper welcomed a number of guests, giving each other a hug. But when he came to his hand, the woman approached him and suggested that he not approach, because it was cold.

"Their excuse for not hugging me was to protect me from their cold," said Davis, who was open about his HIV status. "But overnight, they still hugged other people."

It was a lesson, as if Davis needed the constant stigma of those with HIV, based on the fears of many people that they were in some way exposed to the risk of infection through a simple act of touch.

And that is the belief that Casey House, an independent Toronto HIV-AIDS hospice, hopes to help break through a pop-up spa that offers free massages to the public provided HIV-positive volunteers give training in healing art,

The Healing House, which is held on Friday and Saturday (World AIDS Day), is located in a remote spot in the center of Toronto, focusing on engaging members of the public in discussing the myth that shakes one's hands, touching his or her arms or hugging, catch the virus.

Additionally, spa is a reminder of the need and power of touch.

"It really creates links between one person and another, and ensures that we do not feel alone," said Joanne Simons, President of Casey House, who was founded in 1988 to care for those who have had pain.

"It's the heat of someone's skin on your skin that makes us more comfortable and comfortable and safer and more loved," she said. "Without it, it is a very lonely world, I would imagine."

However, people with HIV often denied that experience – the fact was revealed in Leger's Casey House survey, which found that while 91 percent of Canadians believe that human nature wants to experience contact, only 38 percent of respondents said they would be ready to share the skin's skin contact with anyone with a virus diagnosis.

While Americans are reluctant to contact someone with HIV (41 percent), more than a quarter of those surveyed in a separate US survey believed they could sign HIV through skin skin interaction, compared to one-fifth of Canadians.

"It's really hard for the human spirit – and we know the touch is so important," Simons said. "So that was really the incentive for a public talk of HIV trying to cause human thinking and behavior."

For that purpose, Casey House recruited Melissa Doldron, a registered massaging therapist from Toronto Blue Jays, to teach 15 volunteers of HIV positive treatment basics.

Doldron has stated that public members can decide 10-minute hand and forearm massage or apply for chair massage, which involves manipulating the tension of the back, neck, shoulder, and scalp.

Massage has a number of benefits throughout the body, stimulates vascular, lymphatic and neurological systems, as well as stress relief and stimulation of relaxation, she said.

"Therefore massage helps physiologically and psychologically, and for everyone who is ill, they use double."

Davis, who works as a male sexual health coordinator at Gilbert Center in Barrie, to the east, where he lives with his wife, believes that touch is necessary for everyone, HIV positive or not.

"I remember when I was diagnosed for the first time, the first thing that came into my head – and I was at that time – was that I was the rest of my life and no one would love me, let alone touch me or hug me "said Davis, who volunteered as one of the healers in case Casey House.

"When I published my status, many people close to me were warm and caring, but acquaintances, medical experts and people who did not know me well showed obvious signs of discomfort and made no sense of touching me."

Nearly 40 years after the beginning of a long-awaited deadly AIDS epidemic, the fear that someone can infect only through occasional contact remains. However, for many people, today's antiviral drugs can reduce HIV in the body at unhealthy levels, which is unlikely to transfer the virus to another person, even through sex.

Davis, who started taking antiviral drugs shortly after being diagnosed early in 2015, is considered to be a chronic illness that is easy to manage. "I take my tablet daily and that's all."

His hopes for a pop-up spa are that people will not only come to massage, but also learn about people living with HIV – "so that they can feel comfortable and understand it, you know what, we are not at risk to anyone."

"This is a big deal for me. It's not a virus to fight, it's a stigma to fight."

Polls of 1,581 Canadians and 1,501 Americans were recently conducted using Leger's online board, LegerWeba. Sample probabilities of the same size would give the margin of error approximately-minus 2.5 percent, 19 times out of 20.

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