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Nov 30
Testing and early treatment key in reducing HIV infections

Rates of HIV increased in 2015 with new cases decreasing in 2016

Saskatoon - Early detection and treatment is important for HIV positive individuals, helping them live longer, have healthier lives and to reduce the risk of passing it on to others.

An updated Saskatoon Health Region online report "Better Health for All", released today in conjunction with World AIDS Day, reveals that the Region and its partners need to ensure HIV testing and treatment remains a priority.

"Although the increase in new HIV cases reported in 2015 (51) has been offset by a decrease in cases in 2016, there is still need for concern," says Dr. Johnmark Opondo, Saskatoon Health Region Deputy Medical Health Officer. "Added together over ten years, there are many cases to be managed and long-term engagement continues to be challenging. The good news is that treatment is working for those who receive anti-retrovirals. More patients, however, need to be on treatment."

Dr. Johnmark Opondo

Dr. Johnmark Opondo, Deputy Medical Health Officer, Saskatoon Health Region

Saskatoon Health Region is encouraging people to ask for HIV testing. Testing is available through family physicians or at any sexual health clinic, including Population and Public Health, Saskatoon Sexual Health Clinic, University of Saskatchewan Student Health Clinic, and OUT Saskatoon.

The Better Health For All report shows:

  • There was a 55 per cent increase in reported cases (51) in 2015 compared to 2014. The increase corresponds with an increase in reported injection drug use and in men who reported having sex with men, both risks associated with HIV infection.
  • Heterosexual sex accounted for 16 per cent of HIV transmissionin 2015.
  • Male sex with men also accounted for 16 per cent of transmission in 2015, and is a risk category that has steadily increased over the last five years.
  • Since 2006, one in every six HIV positive individuals in Saskatoon Health Region has died.
  • The Region continues to better serve HIV positive individuals by linking all new cases to treatment services as soon as possible (86 per cent were linked within three months of diagnosis in 2015 as compared to 61 per cent five years ago). There is little or no difference in linkage to care by ethnicity.
  • In 2014, 72 per cent of new HIV patients were retained in care 16 months after HIV diagnosis.
  • Almost half of all the patients diagnosed since 2011 had an undetectable level of virus in their blood.  An undetectable level of HIV virus means the risk of passing on the virus is reduced and individuals can lead healthy normal lives.
  • Access to HIV testing continues to improve through expanded testing and screening services. In 2015, the Region conducted 26,932 HIV blood tests – a 65 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. More HIV positive mothers are receiving antiretroviral treatment during labour and delivery, resulting in no cases of mother-to-infant transmission of HIV in the Region since 2011.

Read the full report and select one-page summaries at:

HIV Rates Graphic

The Region's HIV 2015 infection rate of 14.6 per 100,000 people is still more than twice the national rate. Social factors such as addictions, poor mental health and unstable housing continue to affect treatment rates.  

The Region is committed to working with its partners to address the challenges of people living with HIV by:

  • Integrating care services and social support to address barriers to treatment, such as addictions and housing needs
  • Reducing disparities in engagement and other long term impacts for specific populations, such as First Nation and Metis as recommended by the Truth & Reconciliation Committee.
  • Continuing to monitor and evaluate progress of treatment strategies

In addition to addressing challenges of people living with HIV, the Region intends to improve access to diagnosis and integrate HIV testing with other sexually transmitted infection (STI) testing.

Without access to treatment, HIV can progress to acquired immunodeficiency syndrome (AIDS). In 2015, 14 cases of AIDS were reported; half these individuals were diagnosed within a year of a positive HIV test result, indicating advanced illness by the time HIV is identified.

Awareness of HIV status allows for the early initiation of anti-retroviral therapy and reduces transmission to uninfected partners – providing benefit to the whole community. "Early testing saves lives, so opportunities for HIV testing need to continue to expand," says Dr. Opondo. "The goal set by UN AIDS in 2014 is that 90 percent of people with HIV know their status, that 90 percent are on treatment and 90 percent have suppressed viral loads. Globally this 90-90-90 target has been set for 2020. With good adherence to anti-retroviral treatment, life with HIV is close to other chronic disease."

About HIV

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 best way to protect yourself from HIV is to know your HIV status, use condoms during all sex or use pre-exposure prophylaxis correctly and consistently), and to never share needles.

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