Sask. health officials urging people to get HIV testing

It is estimated that 30 per cent of people who have HIV in Saskatchewan are unaware they have the virus.

That is why health officials are urging people to get tested as part of the province’s annual awareness campaign.

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“This day serves as a good reminder to the public and health-care providers that HIV testing and counselling should be considered at least once every five years in all adults; more frequently based on a person’s risk factors,” Dr. Denise Werker, Saskatchewan’s deputy chief medical health officer, said in a statement.

“HIV is manageable and with early diagnosis and treatment, people infected with HIV can have long and productive lives and reduce the risk of transmission to others.”

HIV statistics in Saskatchewan are different than anywhere else in Canada, said Patti Tait, the cultural co-ordinator with the Elizabeth Fry Society in Saskatoon.

While anyone can be infected with HIV regardless of age, gender, sexual orientation, race or ethnic origin, of concern to organizers are intravenous drug users.

Tait said injection drug use is the leading cause of HIV in the province, as opposed to unprotected sex in other jurisdictions.

“In Saskatchewan, we have a mode of transmission for HIV which is injection drug use,” Tait said.

“Sadly, there’s a significant number of people who are dealing with that issue in Saskatchewan.”

Organizers said events like the national HIV testing day taking place on Thursday help overcome the stigma surrounding HIV testing, which is one of the main ways to combat the epidemic.

“It’s a grassroots initiative to improve the opportunities for people to get access to testing and to increase the awareness of the need for testing,” Werker said.

“We want people to know their status so that they can take measures to prevent the spread, but also access treatment.”

An HIV outbreak was recently declared in North Battleford.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) said 15 new HIV cases were reported during the first five months of 2019. An average of four new cases was reported yearly for the region between 2013 and 2018.

SHA attributed the increase to people injecting drugs and sharing needles.

Officials say knowing your status can help people carrying the virus lead a better quality of life as well as improve long-term effects by getting early treatment.

Free, confidential testing is taking place at a number of locations around the province.

HIV testing is also available through physicians, nurse practitioners, local public health offices or testing clinics.

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