Doctors call for state of emergency as HIV rates rise in Saskatchewan

Doctors are calling on Saskatchewan to institute a state of emergency based on rising rates of human immunodeficiency virus, or HIV, in the province. Doctors say the HIV rate in Saskatchewan is twice the national rate.

While the number of people in Canada living with HIV has increased, the Ontario Ministry of Health and Long Term Care says that number is largely due to medical advancements allowing those infected with the virus to lead longer, healthier lives. The rate of new infections in Saskatchewan is what has raised concern among doctors.

Saskatoon’s Dr. Ryan Meili, a doctor who works directly with HIV-positive patients told the CBC that, “there were 114 new cases in 2014, [and] 158 in 2015. In the last 10 years, we’ve seen over 1,500 people infected with HIV in the province.”

HIV rates in Saskatchewan are on the rise and doctors are calling for a state of emergency. / Carl Juste (TNS)

HIV rates in Saskatchewan are on the rise and doctors are calling for a state of emergency. / Carl Juste (TNS)

Doctors said that the rates in some areas were beginning to resemble those rates found in developing African nations and expressed concern that the province might not be willing to take action on what they are calling an epidemic.

Meili told the CBC that his group is calling for the province to join in on a United Nations pledge to have 90 per cent of all people living with HIV know their status, to have 90 per cent of all people diagnosed with HIV receiving sustained antiretroviral therapy and to have 90 per cent of all people receiving antiretroviral therapy have viral suppression by the year 2020.

A spokesperson for the province told the CBC that they do in fact have a plan to combat the spread of the virus, including an infant formula program to provide formula to mothers with HIV, the hiring of more staff for the treatment of HIV, and an increase in outreach to high-risk communities.

UNAIDS, the Joint United Nations Programme on HIV and AIDS, said in a report that in 2015, 34.0 million to 39.8 million people were living with HIV globally with up to 2.4 million new infections. The group also says that only 17 million of those infected are accessing antiretroviral treatment.

A report in June of 2015 suggested that reserves in the province of Saskatchewan are in much worse condition than the rest of the province. As of that report, HIV rates in Saskatchewan reserves were 11 times the national rate, with 64 of every 100,000 people infected with the virus, versus only 5.9 out of 100,000 in the country as a whole.

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