More action: Saskatchewan government neglects HIV crisis

By in Opinions

Saskatchewan has the highest rates of HIV and AIDS in the country, and the provincial government has failed to adequately address this problem — even after warnings from medical professionals.

Historically, Saskatchewan’s HIV rates have always been some of the highest in the country — with over 2,000 cases reported since 1985 — and these cases affect the Indigenous population most dramatically. In 2016, of the 170 new cases in Saskatchewan, 79 per cent of patients were Indigenous people.

In September 2016, doctors urged the provincial government to declare a state of emergency regarding the increase in HIV-AIDS cases in the province. That year, the Sunrise Health Region saw an 800 per cent spike in HIV cases. On average, this region identified two new cases a year from 2006 to 2015, but in 2016 alone, 18 new cases were reported.

Danielle Chartier — Member of the Legislative Assembly for Saskatoon Riversdale, who is currently serving as the opposition’s official health critic — says not enough has been done since the province received warnings from medical professionals. Chartier believes the most important thing is that the government ensures accessible treatment for all.

“A year and a half ago, we had health professionals call on our government to declare a public-health emergency,” Chartier said. “They also called on our government for universal funding of antiviral medication.”

To Chartier, this is the bare minimum the government should do, and she is not confident that there will be any new developments under the new majority leader, Scott Moe.

“I guess time will tell whether this will make a difference,” Chartier said. “Scott Moe has been sitting around the same cabinet that has not increased funding to this problem, especially during this crisis.”

So far, Moe has offered little insight into his party’s potential plans to intervene. However, in an email interview with the Sheaf in December 2017, before he was named premier of Saskatchewan, Moe did discuss his view of the crisis.

“The increase in HIV diagnosis is extremely troubling and my team is very concerned about it,” Moe said. “A large part of the increase in diagnosis is the increase in testing being done throughout Saskatchewan. My team will continue with the next steps of continuing various HIV treatments within our health system.”

He is right about the increase in testing — in 2016, the province spent $854,710 on HIV testing, whereas a decade ago, that number was just $157,390 — but HIV is a lot more than a diagnosis. Affordable treatment can still be difficult to access, especially in northern communities where cases are the most concentrated.

Furthermore, prevention measures are still focused on urban Saskatchewan, once again leaving out those more vulnerable northern communities.

It will be interesting to see what Moe’s new government will do in response to the health crisis in our province. A good first step would be to admit that the official response to the HIV crisis needs to go beyond just an acknowledgement — more long-term supports and solutions are required.

Jordan Stovra

Graphic: ISTAidsHV / Flickr