“It’s a very difficult thing for me to speak,” Perrot-Sanderson said, in an interview linked to December 1, which is World AIDS Day. “I’ve only just started to take care of it. ” He said he was 21 when he was sexually assaulted while living in Alberta.
After the rape, Perrot-Sanderson said his life “spiraled” as he used drugs and alcohol to cope.
He has just started seeing a counselor to help him overcome the trauma.
The human immunodeficiency virus HIV attacks the body’s immune system. If HIV is left untreated, it can lead to Acquired Immune Deficiency Syndrome, or AIDS.
Perrot-Sanderson remembers that when he was first diagnosed he thought his life was over. It took two decades after AIDS was first identified in the early 1980s to find an effective combination of drugs to treat it. In Canada alone, according to a 2017 report, nearly 25,000 people had died of the disease by the end of 2016.
“I slowly prepared to die for a few years,” Perrot-Sanderson said.
Advocacy for others
He said he became more optimistic after he started taking HIV medication. He volunteered and worked at AIDS PEI (later renamed the PEERS Alliance) and even served as an interim executive director for a time.
“We can take medication and live a fairly normal life,” he said.
Commenting on today’s PEERS leader, he added, “I cannot thank them enough. They do all kinds of amazing work in the community.
The PEERS Alliance runs a number of education and awareness programs, working with a wide variety of people, including gay and lesbian youth and adults; the trans community; and people who use drugs, who are susceptible to infection from sharing needles.
Yet as Perrot-Sanderson marks World AIDS Day, he said it was important to remember the people who did not survive, noting, “I have lost a lot of friends over the years.
He worries about the apathy surrounding AIDS and HIV in 2021.
“A lot of people don’t talk about it or think about it anymore,” he said. “We know how to protect ourselves now – we certainly know a lot more, we know how to prevent this disease. “
Hopes for the future
Josie Baker is the Executive Director of the PEERS Alliance and hopes people will participate in an open house organized to mark World AIDS Day.
Baker noted that there is now better access to testing, with home kits available for use “at the comfort of someone’s home.”
Baker said non-nominal tests are also available, where each test is assigned a number instead of a name before going to the lab for analysis. This means people can rest assured that no one in the lab will know who tested positive.
However, there are still pressing issues that require lobbying, 40 years after the onset of the HIV crisis. Baker said it would be helpful to have an HIV care specialist in Prince Edward Island, as many have to leave the island for specialist care.
She also said that being HIV positive still carries a stigma in Prince Edward Island and elsewhere, and that people should be able to access care and live in their communities without judgment.
“That would be my hope: to end the stigma,” Baker said.
Perrot-Sanderson agrees, saying stigma often prevents people from seeking medical help.
“People ignore it and don’t protect themselves,” he said.