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Toronto popup spa staffed exclusively of HIV-positive “healers”

December 1, 2018 / 5:50 PM GMT By Elizabeth Kuhr Toronto's Healing House is considered to be the world's first…

By Elizabeth Kuhr

Toronto’s Healing House is considered to be the world’s first spa staffed exclusively by HIV-positive therapists or healers. To mark World AIDS Day, Casey House launched a hospital for care of HIV patients, the popup spa, which will offer free massage and facial treatment for HIV positive people for two days.

The goal? Combating discrimination and stigma for 37 million people worldwide living with HIV.

“This stigma affects people’s lives every day,” says Xica Dadiva, a medical doctor. “If I want something to change for me, I have to be involved.”

“The virus has become very manageable. It’s the stigmatization that’s really the disease.”

The project set out with a big goal: challenging people to push their opinions and opinions about HIV-positive individuals. The spa is located on a 7,000 square foot rental area in downtown Toronto. The walls share bold acceptance messages, such as “These hands are healing. And they are HIV +” and “Relax your fear.”

“What our HIV-positive patients really lack, because people are afraid of transmission,” told Joan Simons, CEO of Casey House, for NBC News. “There is a lack of education and fear. The human connection is missing.”

A “healer” giving hand massage to award-winning singer Keshia Chanté at the Healing House popup store in downtown Toronto. Sarjoun Faour

The 18 HIV positive healers, which Healing House calls them, are not therapists through trade. Then Toronto Blue Jay trained the massacre therapist and the local beauty brand Provence Apothecary group. All 164 meetings for minis facials and neck, head and hand massage are free.

“We run the boundaries to create discussion, and this subject makes people uncomfortable,” said Simon. “We want people to get facts, feel feelings and challenge their thinking.”

When the crisis first affected Americans, people mistakenly believed that HIV could be transmitted by touch and refused to make skin contact with HIV-positive people. To this day, the fear remains: Simons said that some HIV-positive patients received massage treatment in the hospital report. It is the only time they are touched by someone.

According to UNAIDS, about one in eight people living with HIV is denied healthcare services because of discrimination. Almost half of North Americans (46 percent) say they would not be comfortable to share skin and skin contact with someone who is HIV positive, according to a Casey House survey leading to this event.

“The whole idea is to confront people with some of their fears,” says Joseph Bonnici, Executive Creative Director of Advertising Agency Bensimon Byrne, who coordinated the spa. “So what can freak them out more than an HIV-positive spa? It’s 100 percent safe, it’s impossible to transfer HIV and people need to know it.”

Publicly revealing their HIV status was not a decision, many of the doctors

Randy Davis, an HIV positive healer, gives a back massage at the Healing House popup spa in downtown Toronto. Sarjoun Faour

When Randy Davis, a sexual health coordinator at an Ontario LGBTQ Center, first diagnosed, said that the last thing he planned to do was to divide his status to a large extent. He said he did not come out as gay to 39 because of fear and hatred that burned the aid crisis in the 1980s.

“I did not think anyone would like to be in a relationship with me, but less touch me,” said Davis. “I became a victim of self-stigma.”

Davis is one of the 18 HIV-positive therapists at Healing House. He said he had the benefit of receiving treatment that is not always available to all living with HIV but has also been discriminated against for his positive status.

“Although I only influenced a person and made them feel it was not necessary to be afraid, that was a great success,” said Davis, who felt moved by experience. “The virus has become very manageable. It’s the stigmatization that’s really the disease.”

When the project was announced, people began to write negative responses online. The spa organizers compiled a team of moderators who instructed to use HIV / AIDS facts to combat the hateful comments and submissions.

“It’s a huge courage to come to the Healing House spa,” said healing house therapist Ron Rosenes from his assistant. “This can affect people who know very little about HIV. That’s an incredible opportunity.”

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