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Sexual & Reproductive Health

New to Ontario? Here Is a Health Resource You Can Trust

Maria Sunil

Lead, Policy and System Initiatives, OHTN

Xavier Kiran

Student Ambassador

The Ontario HIV Treatment Network (OHTN)’s International Student Project provides resources for international students in Ontario to help them learn, adjust, and stay healthy.

For the OHTN, collaboration is the key to success. The non-profit brings key partners from across the health sector together to better the lives of Ontarians who are at risk of or living with HIV.  They encourage initiatives that aim to improve health services to populations who may be underserved, including international students.

“The International Student Project (ISP) was developed in response to research which found that 2SLGBTQ+ international students are more likely to encounter difficulties with mental health, substance use, and sexual wellness, particularly sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, such as HIV,” says Maria Sunil, Lead, Policy and System Initiatives at the OHTN.

To better support these students, the OHTN worked with community leaders and organizations to develop three pamphlet-style resources and an outreach program aimed at improving the overall well-being of international students. These written resources include:

  1. A health resource for international students
  2. A health resource for providers serving international students
  3. A resource guide to navigating services and supports in Ontario

These resources can be accessed on HQ Toronto’s website and are available in both English and Spanish, with more translations on the way.

Overcoming stigma through education

International students in Canada face a wide variety of unique challenges – particularly if they identify as 2SLGTBQ+. “You could be navigating loneliness or struggling to balance academics and mental health,” Maria explains. “Some may have never discussed sexual health, gender, or sexuality preferences before because it was stigmatized in their home country.”

Stigma can have a significant impact on whether a person decides to seek help for their mental and sexual health needs. The ISP supports the needs of these students by providing resources in a way that normalizes discussions on sexual and mental health.

A trustworthy resource

In a world rampant with misinformation, the ISP resources are trusted as an accurate and reliable source of health information. Their guide discusses topics such as sexuality and gender identity, mental health, racism, sex and dating, sexual health, and gender transitioning. For example, students can learn about where to get an HIV test or how to access post-exposure prophylaxis if they think they have been exposed to HIV. If someone tests positive for HIV, they can turn to the ISP resources to better understand what the next steps will be.

Just a click away

In addition to the informational resources, students can also view lighthearted, relatable videos of other international students who share insights and tips – and have become ambassadors for the project. “It’s important to deconstruct preconceived notions and misgivings about sexual and mental health,” student ambassador Xavier Kiran explains. “These services can improve your overall quality of life.”

The initiative also hosts events that foster safe spaces where students can learn about local services and supports. “I want to let all international students know that it’s okay to face the various ups and downs that come with being a new immigrant,” Xavier expresses. “And remember that it’s really okay to ask for help when you need it.”

Get access to these resources on the International Student Resources page at hqtoronto.ca/international-student-resources.

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