Saskatoon – In conjunction with World AIDS Day, Saskatoon Health Region reveals that more people in the Region are getting tested for HIV. Since 2011, HIV blood tests have increased by 58 per cent, from 16,236 to 25,604 in 2014.
The number of diagnoses of HIV has also increased, from 33 in 2014 to 45 as of November 23, 2015 (note: 2015 data is preliminary).
“The Region’s increase in HIV rates is due in part to the increase in testing,” says Dr. Johnmark Opondo, Deputy Medical Health Officer, Saskatoon Health Region. “It’s important to know your HIV status as early as possible, because treatment has advanced and HIV is now a treatable disease. With early diagnosis, and immediate and ongoing treatment, people with HIV can live long and healthy lives.”
At the end of last year, 37 per cent of all HIV positive individuals diagnosed in the Region since 2011 had undetectable viral loads at the time of their last blood test, meaning the virus was suppressed in those individuals. A viral load test measures the amount of HIV in the blood. Antiretroviral therapy reduces HIV viral load, helps maintain immune function and reduces the transmissibility of HIV.
“People who are HIV positive who have been diagnosed for a longer period have had more time to receive antiretroviral treatment,” says Dr. Opondo. “When almost four out of 10 people have undetectable viral loads, it indicates that treatment uptake is improving; however, we would like to see it get closer to 100 per cent.”
In 2014, within three month of diagnosis, 85 per cent of individuals with HIV were linked to medical care through a clinic or hospital. Although initial linkage to care is high for HIV positive individuals, the longer-term goal of sustainable engagement and retention in care continues to be a challenge. In 2014, less than 60 per cent of patients diagnosed that year were still engaged in care (as measured by two medical appointments and two repeated blood tests within six months), a slight decline from the past two years.
Other areas of concern:
- Some residents in the Region are still presenting late for HIV testing and diagnosis. Fourteen cases of AIDS (the late stage of HIV infection) were reported in the Region in 2014; although the rate of AIDS has decreased over the past two years, it is often a result of late HIV diagnosis.
- The proportion of cases attributed to injection drug use (IDU) has decreased over the past five years, from more than 70 per cent in 2012 to 54.5 per cent in 2014; however, IDU is still an important contributor to the epidemic.
- Sexual transmission of HIV continues to increase between men and women, and between men who have sex with men. These two risk factors continue to be important drivers of continued HIV transmission in the Region.
- The proportion of HIV positive individuals who self- identify as First Nations and Métis ethnicity has also declined, in comparison to Caucasian and other ethnicities. However, First Nations and Métis people still account for more than 50 per cent of all reported HIV cases in the Region since 2010.
“With education and awareness, we can continue to improve testing and treatment for people living with HIV,” says Dr. Opondo. “It’s because of these efforts that more HIV positive pregnant women are getting antiretroviral therapy during pregnancy, and no HIV positive babies have been born in the Region since 2011.”
To learn more, visit Health Status Reports: Better Health for All Series (Series 5: HIV Special Report).
View updated HIV data.