It’s been a little more than a year since doctors in Saskatchewan not only described the current HIV and AIDS problem in the province as a state of emergency but also called on the government to publically declare a public health state of emergency.
There were 76,675 HIV tests in Saskatchewan in 2016, the highest on record. Doctors say early detection and early treatment is the difference between life and death. Of 170 new cases in the province, 79 per cent of those self-identified as Indigenous. The number of new HIV cases in the province peaked in 2009 at 199. Some regions have seen a drop in the HIV rate, but others such as Sunrise have witnessed an 800 per cent spike. Yes an 800 per cent spike — very alarming.
Only Regina and Saskatoon saw fewer new cases in 2016 than usual. HIV cases in the Prince Albert Parkland Health Region rose by 73 per cent and by 80 per cent in Prairie North. Doctors say it’s more difficult to lower the numbers now because the increases are being seen in more remote, northern areas, as opposed to the urban locations the HIV strategy has been implemented in.
The province has provided $3.13 million since 2010 in support of HIV programs, and $9 million last year on medication for HIV patients. But doctors are saying it’s not enough and that more preventative measures need to be implemented.
The HIV infection rate in Saskatchewan is 13.8 per 100,000 population, almost double the national average of 7.8. But those rates hide the problem that on reserves, the infection rate is 64 per 100,000. But even this number isn’t entirely accurate because, well, there isn’t much testing going on in these places.
On the Ahtahkakoop First Nation, for example, 60 of 1,700 residents tested positive for HIV, a staggering rate of 3,500 per 100,000 population.
I’m looking at these stats and wondering why on earth hasn’t the government declared a public health state of emergency. If that’s what it will take to get something figured out, it needs to be done. BC had to do it and look; they’ve turned those stats around. Ontario will soon cover a combination HIV prevention pill that is now available in generic form. The once-daily pill contains two anti-HIV drugs that reduce the risk of sexual transmission in HIV-negative individuals. Other provinces are doing their part to fight these HIV stats.
A problem once thought only to be transmitted from those practicing sex between the same gender, but increasingly, the virus is being spread through intravenous drug use, which is a scourge in many impoverished First Nations. I’m not a doctor or any type of health official, but if they are saying a state of emergency needs to be declared because that will help tackle the problem, I say Saskatchewan needs to do it.