Smash HIV Stigma with Stigmavir

//  05.29.24


Casey House creates fictitious drug, Stigmavir, to smash HIV stigma within the health care system

Specialty hospital uses Gloria Gaynor’s I will Survive to create a PSA that calls on health care practitioners to deliver equitable care for those living with HIV

The campaign is the fifth awareness campaign created in partnership with Toronto-based Bensimon Byrne to #SmashStigma

Casey House – a hospital unlike any other providing care to those living with and at risk of HIV – today announces the launch of its latest advocacy campaign, Stigmavir. This initiative aims to reach health care practitioners and introduces a ‘fictitious’ anti-viral drug named Stigmavir, designed to treat HIV stigma. Stigma in health care is harming people living with HIV, with one in five people living with HIV being denied. The campaign includes an upbeat musical public service announcement (PSA), set to a musical adaptation of the iconic song “I Will Survive” with rights provided by Gloria Gaynor herself. The campaign was created in partnership with creative agency Bensimon Byrne, its sister PR shop Narrative, and it’s directed by Mark Gilbert of Untitled Films.

“Even in spaces run by people educated about health, HIV stigma persists. The Stigmavir campaign marks the next chapter in our longstanding Smash Stigma initiative to eradicate HIV stigma,” says Joanne Simons, Casey House CEO. “Stigma remains a significant barrier for individuals living with HIV seeking access to health care. This year we’re inviting other health care providers to join us in the mission to create positive health care spaces that are informed, sensitive, inclusive, and inquisitive rather than assumptive. Everyone deserves health care that meets their needs, treats them with respect and maintains confidentiality.”

For people living with HIV, stigma is one of the most reported barriers to accessing health care. Disclosure to medical professionals can result in stares, microaggressions, and even denial of care, particularly during vulnerable moments like emergency or mental health care. Experiences of prejudice, discrimination, and stigma can cause patients to internalize this negativity, leading to a higher risk of depression and worse health outcomes, such as a delayed diagnosis.

“Despite the scientific advancements in health care and increased knowledge of HIV, unfortunately stigma still exists,” says Dr. Eileen de Villa, Toronto’s Medical Officer of Health who is recognizing the hospital’s Stigmavir initiative for its innovative approach. “Health care leaders like Casey House play a crucial role in educating Canada’s health care providers on what stigma-free care truly involves. Initiatives like Stigmavir not only raise awareness of overlooked issues but also empower health care providers with the essential tools and resources to offer compassionate care to their patients.”

Casey House is leading the charge against HIV stigma in health care by inviting health care practitioners to join the movement in creating compassionate spaces for those living with or at risk of HIV. While Stigmavir is fictitious, it is an invitation to think about the way everyone in health care engages with people living with HIV; to reconsider how small actions can impact the people receiving care. What does health care look like without HIV stigma? Patients can build a trusting relationship with a health care provider, look forward to consistent treatment, and feel safe as they pursue good health. Casey House has also created a campaign website that offers health care providers additional resources on delivering compassionate care to those living with or at risk of HIV.

“People still don’t like having positive people around, and also it’s hard that we’re still facing stigma from health care practitioners,” says Yasir, a documentary participant involved in the project. “This message is important because it not only invites health care providers to provide compassionate care and recognize unconscious biases, but also shares stories from HIV+ individuals and their experiences of receiving equitable care.”

Additionally, Casey House has created an HIV Stigma-Free symbol, similar to LGBTQ+ signage seen in the windows of businesses, available for download by health care practitioners. This symbol, accompanied by a toolkit of resources, will signify their efforts to provide stigma-free care for individuals living with HIV.

“This marks the fifth iteration of Casey House’s #SmashStigma campaign, which has become the largest and most impactful campaign combatting stigma globally,” says Joseph Bonnici, CCO for Bensimon Byrne’s parent company, Tadiem. “This year we opted to infuse a lighter tone into the serious issue of stigma faced by people living with HIV. The campaign is designed to educate health care practitioners in the right voice, but also be engaging and entertain them in order to change behaviours. The Stigmavir campaign is designed to go beyond awareness of the problem, to create action. We want health care practitioners to participate in creating stigma free spaces.”

Join us. Consider whether Stigmavir is right for you and help Casey House improve health care experiences for people living with HIV. Spread awareness by sharing on social media using #smashstigma and to learn more.


About Casey House:
Casey House is unlike any other hospital. We are a specialty hospital in Toronto providing ground-breaking care to people living with and at risk of HIV. Together with our clients, staff, peers and volunteers, we strive to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe. We offer a growing mix of inpatient, and outpatient services that meet clients where they are in their individual journeys of health and wellness and actively dismantle barriers to care and safe living. As a hospital that strives to create an inclusive environment where everyone feels safe, we’re also tackling the deeply ingrained stigma associated with HIV. With bold ideas and brave partners, we make the humanity of each client the heart of everything we do.


Title: Stigmavir
Brand Platform: #SmashStigma
Client: Casey House
Chief Executive Officer: Joanne Simons
Chief Development and Marketing Officer: Alanna Scott
Communications Director: Lisa McDonald

Agency: Bensimon Byrne
Chief Creative Officer: Joseph Bonnici
SVP Strategy: Jenn Bell
Creative Director: David Mueller
Creative Director: Gints Bruveris
Associate Creative Director: Kyle Simons
Copywriters: Nathan Houseley, Kyle Simons, David Mueller
Art Director: Gints Bruveris
Designer: Feilin Fu
Agency Producer: Michelle Pilling
Business Lead: Jessica Cupola
Project Manager: Sandra Morales-Macedo
Program Director: Oliver Glover
Studio Director: Sanjay Manjar
Studio Designer: Rudy Cho

PR/XM Agency: Narrative
Vice President: Lauren Baswick
Account Director: Cole Douglas
Director, Experiential: Jaclyn Kirk
Senior Account Manager: Samantha Sartor
Account Manager: Sreeja Sasidharan
Account Manager: Aaron Short
Associate Account Manager, XM: John Sequeira

Media Agency: Bensimon Byrne

Production Company: Untitled Films
Executive Producer: Tom Evelyn
Director: Mark Gilbert
Director of Photography: Kris Belchevsky
Line Producer: Adam Rodness
Production Coordinator: Tyler Klementti

Casting: Mann Casting
Choreographer: Mark Samuels

Editorial: Button Factory
Producer: Michelle Pilling
Editor (offline): Tim Pienta
Editor (online): Jacques Parys

Transfer: Artjail
Colourist: Clinton Hommuth

Music and Sound Design: Berkeley Inc.
Executive Producer: Tyna Maerzke
Director: Jared Kuemper
Engineer: Jared Kuemper