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Agencies say Saskatchewan’s new HIV strategy is needed after cases are registered

The rate of HIV transmission in Saskatchewan in 2021 was about 4.5 times the national average recorded in 2020.

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Agencies say Saskatchewan needs a new HIV management plan after reporting a record number of new cases in 2021.

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Vidya Reddy, education coordinator for the Southern Saskatchewan AIDS Program, said the 237 cases reported last year should prompt the provincial government to consider new investments to curb the rate of transmission, which is the highest in Canada.

“We were following whatever strategy we had until COVID-19, and it didn’t work,” Reddy said.

Vidya Reddy believes that testing is an essential part of the solution.
Vidya Reddy believes that testing is an essential part of the solution. Photo by KAYLE NEIS /Regina Leader Post

Public Health Canada has yet to release HIV data for 2021, but Saskatchewan’s transmission rate that year is about 4.5 times the national average recorded in 2020. The percentage varies year by year, but Saskatchewan consistently leads the country in per capita diagnoses.

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that it The epidemic is also unique in that it is primarily driven by injection drug use, not sex. The county also recently reported cases of children born with HIV, a relapse after years of preventing such infections.

Saskatchewan launched a four-year strategy to control HIV in 2010 after years of rising cases. Now, Reddy and other human rights advocates believe the county needs a new county based on education, testing, prevention, and treatment of the social and economic conditions that allow the virus to spread.

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“We need a strategy that will be effective for what is our new reality,” said Sheryl Barton, a spokeswoman for the People With AIDS Network in Saskatchewan.

StarPhoenix requested an interview with Health Secretary Paul Merriman last week and was told he was not available.

Instead, the Department of Health sent a statement saying it was concerned about HIV infection rates, and noted that the original HIV strategy included nearly $6 million in ongoing funding to support the programs.

Kayla DeMonge, Saskatoon’s Executive Director of Prairie Damage Reduction, said she was not surprised to see the records.

She said HIV in Saskatchewan is rooted in poverty. Many clients of PHR, formerly known as AIDS in Saskatoon, have no homes and struggle to track down and take the medications that allow people with HIV to live long, healthy lives. Demong said housing should be a key part of the HIV response.

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Prairie Damage Reduction has asked the government three times to fund a supervised drug consumption site on 20th Street West in Saskatoon, at a cost of $1.3 million. De Monge said the price of housing and harm reduction programs pales in comparison to the cost of HIV drugs and treatment.

“It might sound like a high upfront price, but what it really means is millions of dollars in savings,” DeMong said.

Kayla de Monge, the new CEO of Prairie Harm Reduction.
Kayla de Monge, the new CEO of Prairie Harm Reduction. Photo by Michael Berg /Saskatoon Star Phoenix

Reddy noted that HIV testing rates declined in 2020 and did not recover to pre-pandemic levels in 2021. He said expanding HIV self-testing, which can be done without professional medical supervision, could be part of bridging this. Gap.

“Unless we catch up with that testing rate and get past those test numbers and try to provide access to HIV testing for anyone out there without a diagnosis, we won’t be able to get the full picture,” Reddy said.

Barton, whose organization operates a reception site for people living with HIV in Saskatoon, believes a range of support is needed, from harm reduction to peer counseling. She said the COVID-19 pandemic has caused many people to lose contact with services.

Sheryl Barton says the challenges facing people living with HIV have grown during the pandemic.
Sheryl Barton says the challenges facing people living with HIV have grown during the pandemic. Matt Smith’s photo /Saskatoon Star Phoenix

“There are a lot of people who don’t take their medication,” Barton said.

“We all knew in this community as service providers that the numbers would eventually come out of the woodwork.”

Outgoing Sask. NDP leader Ryan Milley said he supported the new HIV strategy, adding that he believed the old strategy was not enough.

“We’ve never seen a response to this disease in terms of funding or programming that is commensurate with the level of the problem and the cost,” he said.

zvescera@postmedia.com
twitter.com/zakvescera

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2022-05-30 23:02:48

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