HIV/AIDS Epidemic Among Aboriginal Populations in British Columbia, Canada, Could Resemble African Epidemics, Study Says
The HIV/AIDS epidemic among aboriginal populations in British Columbia, Canada, has "all the elements" in place to resemble the large epidemics in Africa, according to preliminary data from a long-term study of aboriginal injection drug users, Toronto's Globe and Mail reports. Patricia Spittal and colleagues from the British Columbia Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS on Monday released data from the study of 600 young aboriginal IDUs in Prince George, B.C., and Vancouver, B.C. The study, called the Cedar Project, was initiated after a 2003 study found that HIV incidence among aboriginal IDUs in Vancouver was double that among nonaboriginal IDUs. The Cedar Project researchers found that the hepatitis C prevalence among young IDUs from Prince George who are participating in the study was 62%, compared with 57% of young IDUs from Vancouver. High hepatitis C prevalence rates can be a "key warning sign" of a pending HIV/AIDS epidemic, according to the Globe and Mail. HIV prevalence was "considerably" lower in Prince George than in Vancouver -- 8% compared with 17%, respectively -- but the study's "key finding" is the high hepatitis C prevalence in the two cities, according to the Globe and Mail. In addition, the researchers found that more IDUs shared needles in Prince George than in Vancouver, according to Spittal. She added it also is "alarming" that they found 300 young injection drug users in Prince George, which has a population of 72,000 -- 7,000 of whom are aboriginal -- according to the Globe and Mail.
"The face of the epidemic is changing," Spittal said, adding, "If not addressed aggressively in small reserves and rural areas, it is believed that the virus can potentially wipe out whole communities, as demonstrated in the early phases of the epidemic in sub-Saharan Africa." Spittal said the study will be published later this year but the researchers decided to release some data early "for moral reasons," according to the Globe and Mail. She added that health officials and governments must respond urgently, the Globe and Mail reports. Mary Teegee, manager of community health and development for Carrier Sekani Family Services in Prince George, said, "I think our leadership always knew HIV/AIDS was a concern, but I don't think they knew how hard it is hitting, and how fast, until this data was available" (Hume, Globe and Mail, 5/10).