Increase in Number of Canadian Aboriginals With HIV/AIDS Prompts Provincewide Action
An increasing number of Canadian aboriginals are becoming infected with HIV, and health officials are debating how to bring HIV prevention education to this population, the Winnipeg Free Press reports. A report from Health Canada states that from 1996 to 1999, the number of Canadian aboriginal people living with HIV increased by 91%. There was a 19% increase in the number of new infections among aboriginals over the same time period. Catherine Spence, coordinator of the Northern AIDS Initiative in Thompson, Manitoba, said that HIV is "quickly spreading among aboriginal people in the same way it has overtaken the populations" of developing nations. Manitoba Health statistics show that of the province's 131 self-reported new HIV infections between 1999 and 2000, 30% occurred among aboriginals. Most infections occurred among aboriginals ages 20 to 39 and were largely contracted through intravenous drug use and heterosexual sex. The Winnipeg Free Press reports that infection among young Canadian aboriginals is high because of a lack of "targeted education" about HIV/AIDS. The Health Canada report also noted HIV infection is spreading to "even the most remote locations," as aboriginals move between rural and urban areas (Hendry, Winnipeg Free Press, 10/15).
Manitoba Fights Back
To combat the spread of HIV/AIDS among aboriginals and other residents of the province, Manitoba health officials are crafting a provincewide strategy to target populations at high risk for HIV infection. This summer, regional health authorities and Manitoba Health officials met to create a plan to "target the highest-risk groups" in Manitoba Province -- intravenous drug users, sex workers, the homeless and aboriginals. The group's recommendations are expected to be released this month, and Manitoba Health Minister Dave Chomiak is expected to begin work on creating the strategy this fall. A steering committee will be chosen to review the recommendations, but it will "take some time" to form a strategy, according to Jon Stinson, a special consultant on HIV/AIDS for the Manitoba Health Department. Many health and AIDS groups have conflicting ideas over how the strategy should be directed, and Manitoba aboriginals have asked for a separate plan to fight the disease in their communities. Lucille Bruce, executive director of Village Clinic, which offers services to people with HIV/AIDS, said that the "most important element" of a provincewide anti-AIDS effort is a public awareness campaign that includes television and newspaper ads, posters and community outreach. In addition, program materials should be translated into the language of aboriginals to facilitate understanding. Bruce added that more funding for AIDS services in northern and rural communities is needed to increase access among people living in more remote areas (Hendry, Winnipeg Free Press, 10/15).