An urgent medical advisory has been issued to a variety of health-care officials in Nova Scotia regarding a “significant increase” in reports of newly-diagnosed HIV cases.
“Normally in an entire year we would see about 15 to 17 reports of HIV in the province, and we’ve already come close to that number halfway through the year,” Dr. Trevor Arnason said, a Medical Officer of Health with the Nova Scotia Health Authority [NSHA].
Dr. Arnason says work is underway by NSHA to try and determine what’s caused the increase in newly-diagnosed cases. The cause is currently undetermined.
“We want providers and others to be aware so that they can encourage testing and hopefully based on more information we’ll be able to come up with some ways of preventing new infections,” Dr. Arnason said.
The fact that it’s just over halfway through 2018 and the number of newly-diagnosed HIV cases has already hit the standard annual amount, is alarming sexual health advocates in Halifax.
However, without specific details surrounding the increase, sexual health professionals say it’s challenging to determine an appropriate response.
“We don’t have enough information from the province to be able to put it into a context. So for example, if the number of people being tested has increased, then we could be seeing a consistent rate of HIV infection. But if the number of people being tested has remained the same, then we’re seeing a spike in HIV infection, which is very concerning,” said Dena Simon, executive director of the Nova Scotia AIDS Coalition.
Simon says the modern-day of treatment of HIV is highly effective and has led to individuals being able to live regular lives. She says that may cause people to be “more relaxed” about their approach to taking all necessary protective measures against the disease.
“People have become a little bit more complacent about protecting themselves. So, we need much more loud campaigns about using protection and we also need the province to support the medication,” Simon said.
Push to publicly fund preventative medication
Four Canadian provinces currently publicly fund a drug that is highly effective at preventing HIV.
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, pre-exposure prophylaxis [prEP] reduces the risk of getting HIV through sex by more than 90 percent when taken daily.
However, the drug is only publicly covered in the provinces of British Columbia, Quebec, Ontario and Saskatchewan.
“[prEP] should be publicly funded because of the impact of the uptake that we’ve seen elsewhere. While we’re [Nova Scotia] increasing by 100 per cent, we’ve seen other areas decrease their rates of infection by 40 to 50 per cent,” Matt Numer said, an assistant professor with the School of Health and Human Performance at Dalhousie Universtiy.
Numer says economic sense comes into play when deciding whether the provincial government should support funding the highly-preventative drug.
“It’s cheaper to fund prevention, then it is to fund treatment,” Numer said.
According to Dr. Arnason, HIV is a blood-borne and sexually transmitted disease, placing some populations of people at higher risk of being infected than others.
“The populations at greatest risk in Nova Scotia, this year and in past years have been men who have sex with men, which can include transgendered women who also have sex with men and also people who use injection drugs and those are the two main risk factors,” he said.
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