HIV-related micro-epidemics on rise in Canada
An alarming rise in new HIV infections has been reported in Saskatchewan province, Canada. A micro-epidemic has emerged among First Nation communities, where infection rates are estimated to be eleven times higher than the national average. An infectious disease specialist working in this region believes the numbers could be even higher, as HIV testing rates are so low.
Health Canada statistics report 64 new HIV infections per 100,000 on Saskatchewan First Nation reserves, compared to 5.9 per 100,000 nationally. While just ten years ago it was the same as the provincial average. The majority of infections are due to injecting drug use and the sharing of needles. Entire families are being affected by this growing epidemic, yet some chiefs will not approve HIV testing and treatment on their reserves.
There is an urgent need for widespread HIV information to break down myths and stigma, and to educate community leaders. Effective HIV testing and support services must also be established on these reserves to avoid a public health emergency.