With the problem of AIDS growing rapidly in the province, the Battlefords will be recognizing World AIDS Day with a number of local initiatives.
Both North Battleford City Hall and the Town of Battleford proclaimed Dec. 1 as World AIDS Day in the Battlefords, and Dec. 1 to 6 as Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week.
Last year Saskatchewan doctors asked the province to issue a state of emergency to address the soaring rates of HIV and AIDS in the province.
Saskatchewan continues to have the highest rates of HIV in Canada, more than double the national average.
Battlefords Family Health Centre HIV project coordinator Kent Lindgren confirmed First Nation, Inuit and Métis organizations are over represented for HIV-AIDS cases, and are experiencing epidemic proportions at 2.7 times higher than other Canadians. Saskatchewan Indigenous people represent from 71 to 80 per cent of all new cases in the province in the last decade.
"A lot of people don't think it really affects them but we're trying to have more people know about it," said Lindgren, who is also a North Battleford city councillor. "The stigma is really heart-breaking a lot of times. We want everyone to know about it because it does affect everybody in our province, in one way or another."
To learn more about the issue of AIDS, youth from a number of area schools will be attending a screening of the film Girl Positive on World Aids Day, and will take in a presentation at the Capital Theatre in North Battleford, as part of an event organized by Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre and Prairie North Health Region.
Also on Dec. 1, the Battlefords Family Health Centre will be handing out red-ribbons in the community for people to wear to raise awareness as well.
Lindgren said a major cause in Saskatchewan of people contracting HIV is through sharing needles in drug use.
However, he said Prairie North Health Region offers a Harm Reduction Program out of the Primary Health Centre in North Battleford. Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre also offers the program to help people who are drug users reduce their risk of contracting HIV.
"We are really trying to reduce any harm that can come at any point in youth," said Lindgren.
He said HIV in Saskatchewan, and throughout the world, is also the result of health and social factors, and is more prevalent in places where there is increased poverty.
"That's something we need to work to address," he said.
In Saskatchewan two babies were born with HIV in 2015.
Lindgren said if a mother with HIV is taking the proper medication and receiving the support she needs for her circumstances, the chance she will pass HIV on to her child is almost zero per cent.
"What it speaks to is all of us need to do a better job in helping prenatal mums and women access support," Lindgren said.
PNHR’s HIV strategy co-ordinator Merle Nightingale meets one-on-one with people diagnosed with a new HIV infection to provide public health follow up.
"Everyone from 13 to 70 years old is encouraged to have an HIV test at least once, and a minimum of every five years as an adult, and once a year if sexually active," she said.
Nightingale said in Saskatchewan the top risk factors for contracting HIV are injection drug use, followed by heterosexual sex, with the lowest of the three risk factors as men having sex with men.
"One of the themes we use is HIV is different now, because people living with HIV, under the best circumstances, they can be expected to live a near-normal lifespan - as long, as they get on their treatment fairly early, and take their medication daily, for the rest of their lives,” she added.
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