Saskatchewan HIV rates: ‘We’re going to be facing a catastrophe’
SASKATOON – Saskatchewan has a health crisis on its hands. The province continues to have the highest rates of HIV in the country at twice the national average and experts say 70 per cent of new cases are among First Nations and Métis people.
“Clearly there’s a lot of work to be done to work with those communities to prevent new cases,” said Dr. Ryan Meili.
At the Westside Community Clinic, where he works, physicians have seen the caseload for HIV positive patients go from 50 to 500 in eight years. Meili said the likelihood of getting infected really has nothing to do with race but rather living in poverty.
“They're more likely to struggle with substance abuse or find themselves in situations where they’re practicing or exposed to unsafe sexual practices so risk factors are just higher when people live in poverty.”
Intravenous drug use continues to be the leading cause of HIV and not only are infection rates in Saskatchewan higher, but so are bad health outcomes with quicker mortality rates said Meili, one of seventy healthcare professionals, aboriginal and government representatives at a two-day conference to address issues of addiction and indigenous health at the University of Saskatchewan this week.
Kris Stewart with the Saskatoon Health Region also attended and said his biggest concern through clinical work is that some patients in remote communities have never been offered the proper treatment plan when newly diagnosed.
“These people are at risk of transmitting, they’re at risk of getting sick,” said Stewart
“So when we miss those opportunities, we’re missing an opportunity to prevent transmission and contain the consequences of HIV and the costs of it.”
Over 25 years it would cost less that half-a-million dollars for antiretroviral therapy to manage HIV said Stewart, versus millions and millions of dollars down the road. While some First Nations have conducted aggressive testing in the province others aren’t ready to address HIV or even admit it’s a problem. Stigma, silence as well as isolation could be what is leading to the poor health outcomes.
“It’s hard to believe this but I have patients that are friends with one another, both of them are positive and neither or them know that each other are positive.”
There are now renewed calls for the province to adopt the 90-90-90 strategy for both decreased transmission and improved care. A plan of where 90 per cent of people infected with HIV are tested, treated and maintain an undetectable viral load.
“I think if we don’t do more, especially with the challenge of transmission in remote communities in the province, we’re going to be facing a catastrophe.”
April 6th, 2016
- Posted By: Meaghan Craig - Global News
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