Health Officials in Canadian Province Call for Efforts To Address Increasing Number of HIV Cases
Moira McKinnon -- the chief medical health officer in the Canadian province of Saskatchewan -- on Monday called for efforts to address the increasing number of new HIV cases recorded in the province, the Regina Leader-Post reports. According to McKinnon, there were 174 new HIV cases recorded in 2008, a 40% increase from the 124 new cases reported in 2007. McKinnon said it is "worrying" to see an increase in cases and that it is "particularly worrying to see the trend in the increase is in younger people," including infants. Young women comprised one of the largest increases in 2008, with a significant portion of new cases recorded among aboriginal women and young women as young as age 15, McKinnon said. Additionally, practices such as injection drug use and unsafe sex were the main contributors to the increase, with 60% of new HIV cases occurring among injection drug users.
McKinnon said there were steady increases in new HIV cases in the years leading up to 2006 but that there was also a slower growth rate of about 20 new cases annually. She said that health workers "actually went out and looked harder" for new cases to address the slow growth rate, which provided them with the 2008 increase. However, "there are cases out there that we know that we haven't found, so we're aiming to find them," McKinnon said. Canada's national HIV prevalence is about 10 cases per 100,000 people. Saskatchewan's prevalence is currently at 17 cases per 100,000 people, an increase from five per 100,000 in 2003, McKinnon said, adding that the situation is "very serious."
Saskatchewan Minister of Health Don McMorris said he has called on the ministry to create immediately a committee -- chaired by McKinnon -- in response to the latest HIV data. According to the Leader-Post, the committee will include members from the First Nations group, drug addiction groups, the federal government and possibly other provinces that have previously experienced increases in HIV cases. McMorris said the situation is "unfortunate." He added, "You don't want to see any disease spread and especially HIV, which is preventable. It gives you great concern so you start looking at what can be done." According to McKinnon, new HIV cases are "accelerating quite rapidly, so it's time for action." She noted that needle-exchange programs, increased testing efforts and efforts to reduce stigma against people living with HIV/AIDS are needed to address the increase. People living with HIV/AIDS "don't feel that they can disclose, they don't feel supported," McKinnon said. She added that advocates "need to get the community to rally around and assist and have compassion and support these people so they access the health system so that they can get good care" (McLeod, Regina Leader-Post, 3/24).