HIV fight needs more funds: groups
By Rory MacLean, The StarPhoenix
Some local doctors and advocacy groups are saying the recent $2.5 million in provincial funding for the Saskatchewan HIV strategy is a start, but not nearly enough.
"The province is on the verge of a huge forest fire," said Canadian Treatment Action Council spokesperson Mark Randall. "We need water to fight it, but all the province has given us is a thimble-full to put it out."
The funding, earmarked for front-line care and community outreach, was announced by provincial Health Minister Don McMorris on Thursday while addressing the annual Canadian Conference on HIV-AIDS in Saskatoon.
Dr. Stephen Helliar from the West Side Community Clinic is cautiously optimistic about the announcement. He says he could use some help with his HIV-positive patients.
"At my clinic we have over 200 cases. We could use a case manager for each and every one of those people," he said. "We need outreach workers to help these people to access care."
Helliar suspects that if there were more outreach workers to get people in for testing, his patient load would be much higher.
But increased testing and treatment is needed if the province wants to avoid the significant financial impact on the provincial health-care system associated with an HIV epidemic, he said. The current conservative estimate of the direct cost to provincial health and social services is about $40 million per year.
Dr. Moira McKinnon, provincial chief medical health officer, says while no future funding has yet been secured, there is definitely more to come.
"The $2.5 million is just to start the strategy," said McKinnon. "It will be targeted toward field workers, community workers, outreach workers."
She acknowledged more money is needed, but said the government is limited by the "economic squeeze" at the moment. "It's a start, though. . . . It's a foot in the door."
Long-term funding for the provincial HIV strategy will be allocated through the provincial budget process, she said. McKinnon said there is not a complete HIV strategy yet, but it should be worked out by the end of summer. The strategy will, however, focus on four main areas: Surveillance, clinical management, prevention and harm reduction, and community engagement and education.
In the meantime, four key areas that have been targeted to receive some of the $2.5 million "front line" funding are in Prince Albert, the North, the Saskatoon Health Region and the Regina Qu'Appelle Health Region.
Due to the social factors involved, such as poverty, drug addiction and childhood trauma, the comprehensive strategy will require a multi-disciplinary approach, said McKinnon.
Dr. Johnmark Opondo, deputy medical health officer for the Saskatoon Health Region, said the health region is encouraged by the funding announcement, though it will have to be spent carefully.
"We need to be strategic about our resources, to look clearly at those who are at highest risk and target our treatment toward them," he said. "HIV is very complex, with many, many factors. There is addiction, homelessness. We need to be creative about the way we shape our services. A simple referral obviously is not working. We need better outreach."
Between Nov. 1, 1985, and Dec. 31, 2008, there were 64,679 reported cases of HIV in Canada. While most provinces and territories have had a stable, or declining, rate of positive HIV test reports since 2002, Saskatchewan has seen a steady increase. Between 2004 and 2007, there was an average increase of 24 new cases of HIV per year. In 2008, there was an increase of 46 cases from 2007.