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When HIV and COVID-19 pandemics collide in Black communities in Canada

When HIV and COVID-19 pandemics collide in Black communities in Canada

Maureen Owino

Since 2007, Maureen Owino has been an active organizer and advocate for immigrants, refugees, women, and youth with HIV/AIDS in Toronto. She has been an active volunteer in many organizations including board membership of the Black Coalition for AIDS Prevention (Black CAP), Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), HIV Legal Clinic of Ontario (HALCO) and a steering committee member of the Toronto HIV Network.

At the Committee for Accessible Aids Treatment (CAAT) where she also served as program coordinator and then director, she has committed herself to the role of community mobilizer and advocate, working closely with community and government partners to advocate for the recognition of newcomer and racialized people living with HIV-AIDS as priority populations in provincial and federal AIDS strategies. Under Owino's leadership, CAAT was nominated and received various awards, namely, the 2009 City of Toronto Access to Equity and Human Rights Award; the 2012 Casey Award for Leadership and Capacity Building in promoting the health and well-being of people living with HIV/AIDS facing barriers to treatment and services; and the 2014 OAN Honour Roll /Award for contribution to advancing the cause of social justice in HIV/AIDS.

From 2017 to 2019, Owino pursued her Master's in Environmental Studies at York and during these years she also received the 2017 Ontario AIDS Network’s Caring Hands Award for "inspiring hope and dignity with compassion and respect" for people living with HIV/AIDS, and the 2019 Women’s Health in Women’s Hands Community Health Centre Women of Resilience Award for resilient leaders.

Currently pursuing PhD in Environmental Studies at York while serving as UNAIDS Program Coordinating Board NGO delegate and research project coordinator of CIHR's Centre for Reach in HIV/AIDS & Women's Health in Women's Hands' I'm Ready Campaign, Owino is further doing her dissertation research titled "When HIV and COVID-19 Pandemics Collide in Black Communities in Canada," confronting issues relating to pandemic responses that impact already vulnerable communities. For this research, Owino received the CIHR Vanier Canada Graduate Scholarship for the next three years. She is also a 2020 Canadian HIV Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study (CHIWOS) Scholar and was part of the Dala Lana School of Public Health talk on Black Health Matters - Responding to COVID-19 in April 2020. She recently co-authored an article on Intersections of Treatment, Surveillance and Criminal Law Responses to HIV and COVID-19 in the American Journal of Public Health.

Photo credit: Canadian HIV/AIDS Black African and Caribbean Network (ICAD/CISD)

Through institutional ethnography, her research will examine the cumulative impacts of existing and emerging social and public health policies on Black people’s health and well-being in Canada. It will do so by tracking the rapidly changing health and public policy landscape in Canada; using critical feminist and race theories to analyze, compare and contrast COVID-19 and HIV containment and mitigation strategies; and examining how these policies address, reify, challenge, and uphold existing health inequities from the perspective of Black people living with and at risk of pandemics in Canada.

"This research is vital, as it exposes how pandemics reveal inequities in health outcomes for vulnerable communities who also face racism, sexism, homophobia and poverty, which create acute conditions for these vulnerable populations. The findings will be accessible to a diverse audience base through a collaboration with Black organizations, community members, researchers, activists and scholars," says Owino.

“Whereas most Canadians are reeling from the impact of COVID-19, Black people also remain in an HIV pandemic zone and must deal with the impact of both pandemics simultaneously,” says Owino. “ These structural inequities create conditions of vulnerability that are increased by barriers to effective and timely health care, and increases the Black communities' risks to future pandemics,” Owino adds.

Indeed, Owino's passion and commitment to working in an anti-oppression framework and towards community empowerment and capacity building is undeniable. She is currently a member of the Ontario Advisory Committee on HIV/AIDS (OACHA) and a Community Advisory Committee member for the CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network (CTN). Prior to Canada, she served at the Teachers Service Commission in Eldoret, Kenya.