Battleford, Sask. vending machine fighting spread of HIV

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WATCH ABOVE: New harm reduction measure in North Battleford to help combat the spread of diseases and infections.

The Saskatchewan Health Authority (SHA) has partnered with Battle River Treaty 6 Health Centre and a handful of community groups to offer clean needles and pipes to drug users in the Battleford area.

A vending machine with equipment for drug users was set up outside of the Battleford’s Indian & Metis Friendship Centre on Aug. 1.

READ MORE: HIV and syphilis outbreaks declared in northwest Saskatchewan

This is in combination with a program that sees former users who carry around backpacks of clean supplies.

SHA said some users aren’t comfortable gathering their own supplies, even sending others to gather the supplies for them.

“There’s issues of trauma and issues of trust. So we had some of that distribution happening already. This just made it more formal and gave us a chance to work with people in the community (and) what they need,” SHA public health supervisor Kelly Greenwald said.

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The authority believes the machine will offer more access to clean supplies and prevent the spread of viruses and diseases.

SHA declared a syphilis and HIV outbreak in the Battleford and Lloydminster areas in June.

Between 2013 and 2018, there was an average of four new HIV cases reported to the authority.

There were 15 new cases between January and May this year.

AIDS Saskatoon said these programs are great especially, in smaller city centres and are beneficial everywhere.

“I think these are really beneficial in smaller communities and ultimately if we get them in Saskatoon, obviously there is no harm in having more harm-reduction programs,” education and prevention coordinator Lauryn Kronick said.

She added Saskatoon already has several needle exchange programs.

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Instead of taking quarters and loonies, the machines take tokens that are available for free at a number of different locations around the city, including the shelter, which is open 24-7.

“It’s nice when the community is working together to put these numbers down because they’ve got to go down and they’re going to go down. We’re attacking it the right way,” SHA peer advisor Malcolm McNeil said.

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SHA added that machines will be installed in Lloydminster and Meadow Lake with more northern communities being considered.