The power of touch
A pop-up spa with HIV+ massage therapists attempted to confront stigma
Healing House, the world’s first HIV+ spa pop-up, opened to the public in Toronto, for free and by appointment or walk-in, on Nov. 30 and Dec. 1, timed to coincide with World AIDS day.
Part of Casey House’s #SmashStigma campaign, the pop-up offered spa services — hand or neck/shoulder massages and a mini facial — performed by 12 newly trained healers who are all HIV+.
“We’re asking Canadians to think about what it means to touch,” said Joanne Simons, the CEO of Casey House.
The pop-up was an opportunity for interactive, experiential learning, designed, as Simons puts it, to “challenge Canadians, to open their minds and their hearts and engage with us in a different way of raising awareness.”
Sharing space with someone, looking into their eyes, talking and experiencing skin-to-skin contact, Simons says, is an effective way to show, rather than tell, about the stigmas people living with HIV face.
“The actual evidence is clear: science shows that there is no possible transmission of HIV skin to skin. It is not in saliva. So sharing a glass, you can’t transmit HIV. Our population deserves the same respect and dignity and love and compassion.”
The community outreach Healing House was part of Casey House’s #SmashStigma campaign and offered spa services, like massages, performed by 12 newly trained healers who were all HIV+.
followed some pretty depressing research done by Casey House. The findings showed that while 91 per cent of Canadians believe it is in our nature to need positive touch, more than half, at 51 per cent of the population, indicated they weren’t willing to share skin-to-skin contact with a person who has HIV/ AIDS.
It has been more than 20
years since life-saving combination drug treatments have transformed the disease from fatal to a chronic, manageable condition. The transmission rates continue to be high, says Simons, as more than 1.8 million people will be newly diagnosed globally this year. But the accompanying stigma suffered by those affected by the disease has not changed, even as our scientific
understand and treatments continue to improve.
Hence the slogan for the spa: lie down and make yourself uncomfortable.