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Sep 19
Rates of HIV declining but more needs to be done

Saskatoon - A new Better Health for All online report released today by Saskatoon Health Region reveals that the Region and its partners are making progress in reducing HIV rates in our region, but more needs to be done.

"More people are getting tested for HIV, including those considered high risk, and this is a positive step forward for prevention," says Saskatoon Health Region's Deputy Medical Health Officer Dr Johnmark Opondo. "Positive test results for high risk populations are also declining. This success is being achieved in collaboration with key partners across the Region."

With treatment, HIV positive individuals can live long and healthy lives and reduce the risk of passing HIV on to others. The report shows:

  • The Region is better serving those with HIV by immediately engaging all new cases in case management and linking more people to treatment services (88.4 per cent were linked within three months of diagnosis in 2013 as compared to 60.7 per cent in 2011). In 2013, nearly 70 per cent of new HIV patients were retained in care 16 months after diagnosis.
  • Access to testing has improved through expanded screening services involving more providers and through the introduction of new rapid point-of-care tests, which bring the test conveniently to the patient. In 2013, the Region conducted 24,414 HIV blood tests – a 50.3 per cent increase over testing volumes in 2011.
  • Prenatal HIV testing is routinely offered in Saskatchewan, and more women are being screened for HIV during pregnancy. Women who test positive are receiving antiretroviral treatment during labour and delivery, resulting in no cases of mother-to-infant transmission of HIV in the Region since 2011.

New HIV infection rates in the Region have declined but are still about twice the national rate at 12.8 people per 100,000 (2013). Social determinants such as housing, gender and ethnicity affect HIV transmission and treatment rates. For example, unstable or inadequate housing makes it challenging for clients to book medical appointments, receive referrals and social supports, store and keep medications in a private space, and receive adequate rest.

As part of provincial and regional HIV strategies, the Region is committed to working with its partners to address the challenges of people at risk or living with HIV by:

  • Increasing health promotion and prevention efforts, especially for young people and other populations at increased risk
  • Increasing efforts to integrate health care services and social support
  • Improving surveillance to evaluate progress and improve treatment and prevention strategies
  • Improving access to diagnosis and treatment with more treatment/test sites.

Access to treatment is important because without it HIV can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS).  In the Region, rates of AIDS and HIV deaths are high as cases are often diagnosed in the late stages of infection. In 2013, more than one in every five individuals with AIDS was diagnosed within one month of a positive HIV test result, indicating a need to reach people earlier for testing and treatment services.

"Early testing for HIV is important. When people know their HIV status, they can be supported to get the treatment they need to stay healthy and avoid passing HIV on to others," Dr Opondo says, explaining that awareness of HIV status allows for the early initiation of antiretroviral therapy – a key intervention that benefits the HIV-positive individual and may reduce transmission to uninfected partners – providing benefit to the whole community.

"We want you to know your HIV status because HIV in 2014 is very different from what it was in the 1980s or 1990s. Treatment is available, and with good adherence, HIV care is pretty close to the management of any other chronic disease," Dr Opondo says.

HIV (human immunodeficiency virus) is a virus that kills or damages cells in the body's immune system. It is spread in three ways: sexual intercourse (vaginal, anal and oral); direct contact with infected blood (e.g., injection drug use); or from an infected mother to her unborn child. HIV is not spread by touching or hugging, sharing household items (e.g., utensils, towels, bedding), contact with sweat or tears, sharing facilities (e.g., pools, saunas, hot tubs, toilets), coughs or sneezes.

The report is summarized at and includes stories from the frontline. In the coming months, Saskatoon Health Region will release additional online reports with information on the Region's health status and wellbeing.



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