World AIDS Day: Saskatoon’s HIV rates more than twice the national average

In conjunction with World AIDS Day taking place on Dec. 1, the Saskatoon Health Region (SHR) released a report that reveals the city’s HIV infection rates and what is being done to decrease the numbers.

The Saskatoon Health Region’s updated ‘Better Health For All’ report shows the city’s 2015 HIV infection rates were more than twice the national average, breaking a five-year downward trend:

Saskatoon: 14.6 in 100,000 in 2015Canada: 5.8 in 100,000 in 2014 (latest national data available)

READ MORE: World AIDS Day put spotlight on high Sask. HIV rates

Deputy health officer Dr. Johnmark Opondo said there was a 55 per cent increase in reported cases this year.

“We had come down to about 31 cases a year but last year, we went up to 51 cases,” he said from the Saskatoon Health Region office.

The increase in reported cases is mainly due to people not using clean needles for injection drug use and unprotected sex:

Injection drug use (IDU) accounted for 65 per cent of transmission in 2015Heterosexual sex accounted for 16 per cent of HIV transmission in 2015Male sex with other males also accounted for 16 per cent of transmission in 2015

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    According to the SHR, the key to decreasing infection rates is to educate the public on the importance of regular testing and providing those in need with access to ongoing treatment.

    “You can imagine if we’re able to do this across a large number of individuals who are HIV-infected, we’re reducing the amount of HIV that’s circulating in the community,” Opondo said.

    “This combined effort in testing and treatment probably explains the downward trend in the Saskatoon Health Region.”

    Seven out of 10 HIV-positive individuals identify as First Nation or Métis in Saskatoon, with contaminated injection drug use as the number one cause of infection.

    “We look at the mental health of the people and what is happening to them. Why are they self-medicating and using drugs?” All Nations Hope Network CEO Margaret Poitras asked.

    “It’s all (part) of the trauma that’s come from the residential schools and from colonization.”

    READ MORE: South African HIV vaccine trial could be ‘final nail in the coffin’ for the disease

    She has been working to find the root causes for the high rates of HIV among indigenous people for 17 years.

    However, HIV rates are now decreasing. Only 35 cases of new infections have been reported in 2016 and the Saskatoon Health Region said it believes that is due to an increase in testing, education and long-term treatment.

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