The demographic profile of people living with HIV has changed substantially since the early years of the epidemic. Women now represent over half of the estimated 34 million people living with HIV worldwide. In Canada, women account for 23% of the Canadian total in 2011, nearly double the proportion observed in 1999 (12%). Yet in this changing context, relatively limited research has focused on health issues specific to women living with HIV, particularly those of a sexual, reproductive, and mental health nature.
In an effort to respond to this gendered gap in HIV research, a team of researchers, clinicians, community-based service providers, policy-makers, and women living with HIV partnered together from across Canada to develop a national women’s HIV study called the Canadian HIV Women's Sexual and Reproductive Health Cohort Study (CHIWOS) (pronounced “chee-wose”). After two years of groundwork, the study was officially launched this week on October 1st 2013, the start of Women’s Health Awareness Month.
Supported by the Canadian Institutes of Health Research (CIHR) Institute of Gender and Health, CIHR Canadian HIV Trials Network (CTN 262) and the Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN), CHIWOS is the country’s largest multi-site, longitudinal, community-based research study focusing solely on women living with HIV. The goal is to investigate HIV-related vulnerabilities, service barriers, and the potential impact of women-centred HIV care among women living with HIV in Canada. Drawing on Critical Feminist and Social Determinants of Health (SDOH) frameworks, the study seeks to measure and understand the broader social factors such as poverty, violence, and racial marginalization that increase vulnerability to HIV and impact healthcare for women living with HIV.
Led by Drs. Mona Loutfy of Women's College Research Institute, Angela Kaida of Simon Fraser University, Alexandra de Pokomandy of the McGill University Health Centre, and Robert Hogg of the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS, and advised by a National Steering Committee, three provincial Community Advisory Boards, and a national Aboriginal Advisory Board, the study brings together a rich diversity of perspectives and specialties from across the country. By involving all relevant stakeholders – especially women living with HIV – as engaged partners in the process of creating knowledge, the study hopes to yield findings of high value and relevance to the community, which will be used to create change.
Enrolling in British Columbia, Ontario, and Quebec, with plans to expand to other provinces, CHIWOS is looking to recruit and interview over 1,250 women living with HIV. Surveys will be administered by Peer Research Associates (PRAs), who are women living with HIV and integral members of the research team. Eligible participants (aged 16 years or older, living with HIV, and self-identifying as a woman) will complete a survey at enrolment and again within 18 months. Interviews will take place at clinics, AIDS Service Organisations, and community-based organizations across the country. The study aims to reach women traditionally excluded from participating in research, due to financial, personal, or logistic barriers.
This is an opportunity for women living with HIV to have their voices and priorities heard in a respectful and non-judgmental research environment that is women-centred and peer-led. We hope that women living with HIV will be encouraged to participate. It is through listening to their stories that we can collectively improve the health, care, and well-being of women living with HIV in Canada. On behalf of our team, it is an honour to launch this important study and we look forward to sharing the journey with you!
The short movie below introduces some of the members of our national CHIWOS team and provides an overview of our study. For more information and to participate, please contact a Study Coordinator in your region or connect with us online:
BC: Allison Carter,
, 604-806-8615, 1-855-506-8615 (Toll-free)
ON: Jamie Thomas-Pavanel,
, 416-351-3800 ext: 2323
QC: Karène Proulx-Boucher,
, 514-934-1934 ext: 32146
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About the writer: Allison Carter is the Research Coordinator for CHIWOS in British Columbia. She completed her Bachelor of Science at the University of British Columbia and her Master of Public Health at Simon Fraser University