5 Questions with Kira Haug, Manager of the Human Rights Education Project

Kira Haug has worked with member group ASK Wellness in Kamloops for many years. We are excited that Kira has joined the PAN team to lead the Human Rights Education Project over the next year. Get to know Kira as part of the Meet the People at PAN series. 

What first piqued your interest in the HIV and hepatitis C sector?

In 2009 I started working for ASK Wellness in Kamloops, BC. I was supporting people who were self-employed in survival sex work in a program called SHOP (Social and Health Options for people who do survival Sex work). After 6 months, I moved into a full-time health navigation role for people living with HIV/AIDS and or hepatitis C, and realized that this new role would shape my work and knowledge for the next 9 years. Living in a smaller city surrounded by rural communities began to inform my role in navigation. I would become a bridge to equitable service access. Living with HIV/AIDS in a township of 500 and not having internet or a vehicle meant that self-care couldn’t be done. I supported both urban and rural community members to receive testing, counseling, treatment, and care across the determinants of health while supporting their diagnosis. I would travel with newly diagnosed patients from Kamloops to Vancouver and work with the teams at St. Paul’s hospital.

I will never forget the first time a patient who had a viral load of 1 million and a CD4 count of 199- four months previously, received confirmation from St. Pauls that she was now undetectable. We drove out of Vancouver with the music loud, windows open, laughing and crying at the same time! That was a changing day for us both and I know that this is where my passion for this work manifested, in this drive home from Vancouver with a powerful and nurturing woman who would be able to be a mother to her many children for a very long time.

This work is rooted in human justice, dignity and self-determination.

On the other side of this, I have had the privilege to know and then sadly, say goodbye to more people than I care to count. These losses rippled through our community, front line agencies and most profoundly, their families and friends. They cannot be replaced but they will be forever in our hearts.

In 2011, our agency spearheaded a humanitarian trip to Swaziland, South Africa where more than half of the population was living with HIV/AIDS (mostly without access to ARV therapy), grandmothers were raising children and access to services was scarce. We built a three-room school, worked at an orphanage for a week and provided health navigation (with a BC chief medical health officer) to rural Swazi families who were living positive to Mbabane Hospital to begin ARV therapies. This experience gave me such gratitude for being born in Canada. It gave a perspective that although our systems are not perfect they are superior to some. Gratitude goes a long way, the Swazi people we met were champions of resiliency, kindness, and joy.

This year, on March 1st I began my new adventure with PAN as the Human Rights Education Project Manager. I am so excited to be a part of an agency and community that has been a part of my ongoing education throughout the years. I look forward to what lay ahead for our team, our communities and the people who need a bridge to cross over to equity and equality of care.

 

What role do you think HIV and hepatitis C research plays in the real world?

Research has saved lives and improved the quality of life of those living with HIV and or hep C.  Over the years, I was privileged to support many wonderful people through their journey as a positive person.  When I first started this work, folks who were taking their ARVs were struggling with terrible side effects.   People who were positive with hep C had challenges to even receive treatment, and if they did, they were sick for a year or more with only a 55% chance of clearing the virus.   Today, people who are on ARV therapy are undetectable, healthier and can look forward to long a life.  In the past 2 years, more people have cleared their hep C virus with increased access to treatments, in as little as 12-18 weeks (without devastating side effects).  Research has informed community stakeholders about gaps in services, socio-economic considerations, moving trends, stigma and discrimination issues and the positive and negative outcomes of all determinants of health.  This information changes how we as community support, advocate, react and pursue better health outcomes for all people who have impacted, afflicted or infected with a blood-borne virus.

 

How do you engage the community in your work?

All of my work to date has been front line, and for the people who desire and direct it. Person-centered care acknowledges individuality, a unique story and their inherent right to health, education, liberty, and self-determination. Peers with lived experience inform our practices and give us the insight to engage people in a meaningful way. Those voices carry me forward. The work I engage in, and why I do it, is to improve health outcomes for people who are disenfranchized from the greater community. From an education standpoint, I am passionate about igniting compassion and empathy by humanizing hard topics, like inclusion and human rights. We can address an issue for those experiencing it but we also need to continue to pound through stigma and discrimination with knowledge and translation for the those who do not relate. Fear inflames stigma. Knowledge informs fear.

 

If you had unlimited funds, which areas of research would you invest in?

Food security, global warming, and environmental sustainability, social justice in relation to determinants of health, harm reduction, and housing in relation to improving health outcomes.

 

If you were able to choose, what is the natural talent you’d like to be gifted with?

This is a hard one. I would want to play piano, like Billy Joel, Harry Connick Junior, Tori Amos or Elton John.