PRINCE ALBERT -- Fred Simpson hopes National Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week and National AIDS Awareness Week will help reduce the stigma around HIV testing and prevention measures such as needle exchange sites.

A flag raising ceremony, awareness walk and HIV wellness workshop are some of the activities planned.

In Saskatchewan, injection drug use accounts for 71 per cent of new cases among newly diagnosed people. A needle exchange program housed at Access Place in Prince Albert provides clean needles to injection drug users in exchange for their used ones.

The Prince Albert area has the highest HIV rate in the country at 64.4 HIV positive people per 100,000, according to Paulette Martin, the Strategy HIV co-ordinator for the Saskatchewan Health Authority in Prince Albert.

"Our biggest two risk factors for Saskatchewan are injection drug use. So people sharing their injectable drug use equipment. And the second biggest risk factor is heterosexual sex - men and women having sex without using a condom as a barrier.”

The Saskatchewan rate is 14.1 per 100,000, while the national rate is 6.5 per 100,000.

However, the Prince Albert numbers have gone down over the past three years, she said.

“We’ve seen it go down by one case at a time. So that’s a positive result.”

To prevent the spread of the virus, the Saskatchewan Health Authority promotes HIV testing and encourages everyone in the province to know their HIV status.

Testing has been simplified with the use of dried blood spot test kits. The kits use a drop of blood from a finger prick instead of going to a lab to get blood drawn by a lab technician. A nurse or support worker can administer the test in an office and have the results within minutes.

Martin said fewer needles are being found on the city streets - fewer than 500 were picked up this spring - and 97 per cent of needles are returned through the needle exchange program.

In 2018, just over one million needles were given out.

“One use, one needle one time is our message for people,” Martin said.

Those who self-identify as Indigenous make up about 75 per cent of newly diagnosed people with HIV in Saskatchewan, according to the Saskatchewan Health Authority.

The Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network reports that in 2017, Indigenous people comprise 20.1 per cent of new HIV cases. Indigenous people are over represented at 2.7 times higher than other Canadians.


Due to an editing error, a previous version of this story misattributed comments by Paulette Martin to Fred Simpson.