New cases of HIV down in Regina
While the number of new HIV cases in and around Regina has dropped in the past two years, it is still too early to say if the trend will continue downward, said the Regina Qu’Appelle Health Region’s deputy medical health officer.
In 2010, 40 new diagnoses of the disease were made in the region, down from 48 in 2009 and a peak of 56 in 2008. “Many factors could play into that,” said Dr. Maurice Hennink. “Some of the prevention messages and actions obviously have an impact. Secondly, in the particularly high-risk, injection-drug environment where HIV and Hepatitis C are the viruses spread … the amount of spread may have decreased because the sharing of needles and other high-risk activities may have potentially dropped off.”
So far in 2011, 24 new cases have been reported in the region, putting it on pace for 44 new cases in the year. “We’ll have to see where that trend actually goes,” said Hennink.
Since 2003, when 12 new cases were reported, the numbers have generally increased. There were 19 new cases in 2004, 15 in 2005, 22 in 2006 and 36 in 2007.
Laurie Sampson, administration director for AIDS Programs South Saskatchewan (APSS) said she would expect the new cases in Regina to actually increase should more people get tested for HIV. “There’s such a stigma still attached to it that people don’t want to know,” said Sampson. “There’s a shame that sometimes people feel and it isn’t necessary. People haven’t chosen to contract HIV. There’s lots of stigma and discrimination in the community and people are hesitant to get tested. And then there’s still an apathy, particularly among young people. ‘It couldn’t possibly happen to me.’
“Many of the people we work with, the least of their concerns is their health. They’re looking at where they’re going to sleep tonight, where they’re going to get food. The fact they may have contracted HIV just really isn’t on their radar.”
According to Hennink, 23 people per 100,000 population in Saskatchewan have HIV, compared to just 12 per 100,000 in the rest of Canada.
Such high incidence rates have led to the introduction of a provincial HIV strategy that will see millions go to health regions and community-based organizations to deal with the problem.
The health region has hired its programming co-ordinator that will work with CBOs to develop plans in Regina.
APSS, the All Nations Hope AIDS Network, Carmichael Outreach Inc. and the Street Workers Advocacy Project — the four organizations in Regina that work with HIV/AIDS patients — are to meet later this week to discuss strategies for applying for the new money.
“Money is limited, always is, and so we might as well meet the needs of all our clients without duplicating services,” said Sampson. “We’re definitely taking a collaborative approach and we’ll come up with a plan.”
While it’s too early to discuss what kind of programming the four groups might offer, Sampson said some of the provincial money has already been allocated for transportation and housing needs.
“One would like to see the numbers drop significantly and also support everybody that is found to have the HIV infection and to support these patients in their range of needs from medical to social,” said Hennink.