COVID-19 is a word we will not soon forget. The year 2020 marked a turning point in our history. How about from the perspective of our communities? How have people reached by community-based HIV organizations experienced this crisis? This many months after the WHO announced this novel pandemic, we need to take stock, and for that we need a new research project.
For a global problem, nothing is better than an international solution. This is where Coalition PLUS comes in. This international AIDS network, founded in 2008, works in 52 countries and with over 100 civil society organizations.
The member organizations of Coalition PLUS have experienced significant difficulty during the pandemic. Their communities are still being hard-hit by this crisis. Several organizations contacted the Coalition PLUS Community Research Lab with a common desire to document the effects of the pandemic on “key populations.” Key populations are groups that we consider priorities for action, such as people living with HIV or HCV, LGBTQ+ people, sex workers, people who use drugs and immigrants.
As a result, the Coalition PLUS Community Research Lab, along with university and community-based activists and researchers, developed The EPIC project: a Survey to Document the Impact of this Crisis in the HIV and HCV Community.
EPIC’s objective is to study the impact of the health crisis caused by COVID-19 on people living with HIV, as well as on people who use drugs and sex workers. The research team will collect data from 200 people living with HIV via an online quantitative questionnaire (available until fall 2021) and will meet with drug users and sex workers. The questionnaire will produce an update on the impact of the crisis on people's economic situation and their access to healthcare, in particular HIV treatment.
Partnering for EPIC
In Quebec, the organization where I work, the Coalition des organismes communautaires québécois de lutte contre le sida (COCQ-SIDA) is a co-founder and member of Coalition PLUS, as well as a member of its Americas-Caribbean platform.
COCQ-SIDA implemented the EPIC project with researcher Gabriel Girard (from the University of Montreal and SESSTIM in France), the team of the Direction Recherche Communautaire of Coalition PLUS, the Table des organismes communautaires montréalais de lutte contre le VIH/sida (TOMS) and Montreal without AIDS. The Quebec component of EPIC is financially supported by REACH Nexus and the Direction régionale desanté publique de Montréal.
Qualitative interviews by and for sex workers and drug users
Peer Research Associates are part of the research team. They undergo 10 hours of training to learn and practice the art of conducting a qualitative interview. This type of interview often takes the form of a discussion, where the person interviewed can express their experience on a given topic in-depth. After their training, the peers meet with ten people who use drugs and ten sex workers. We know that members of these communities have been particularly affected by the health crisis in Quebec. The curfew, for example, has had a huge impact on access to supervised consumption sites and on the work of sex workers.
This project is being coordinated by Gisèle Mandiangu Ntanda and Charlotte Guerlotté at COCQ-SIDA and carried out in collaboration with COCQ-SIDA and TOMS member community organizations. Gisèle shares: "It is my pleasure to coordinate the EPIC project with our multidisciplinary team." She joined the COCQ-SIDA team in March of this year and is also a Doctoral candidate in Community Health at Université Laval. She explains,
This research project is an opportunity for me to work with people, mostly in community settings, who are concerned with adequately meeting the needs of people living with HIV, as well as people who are more vulnerable to HIV and/or HCV, such as sex workers and drug users.