Inaction is Costing Millions; Meili Calls for Strategy to Address Saskatchewan’s HIV Crisis

For Immediate Release

(December 1, 2017) Regina, SK —The nearly 2,000 new cases of HIV in Saskatchewan since 2007 will add over $2.5 billion in costs to the health system. With 260 deaths of HIV-positive patients in that period, inaction on the HIV crisis is costing lives and millions of dollars in health expenditures.

The Government of Saskatchewan has not had an HIV strategy since 2014, which happens to be the last year that there was a decrease in new cases. Saskatchewan saw 170 new cases of HIV last year, up from 158 in 2015. This continued rise is accompanied by high rates of morbidity and mortality for those living with the disease, with far higher rates of death and severe illness among Saskatchewan patients than elsewhere in Canada. This crisis is particularly impacting First Nations and Métis communities and is increasingly prevalent in rural and remote areas. 

"Working with HIV-positive patients and their families has been a big part of my medical practice,” said Saskatchewan NDP Leadership Candidate Ryan Meili, “and the inaction on prevention and treatment was one of the reasons I ran for office. We know how to decrease the rates of HIV in Saskatchewan and how to help HIV-positive people stay healthy. What we need now is the political will to take action."

Each new case of HIV costs the province over $1.4 million over the lifetime of the patient. New cases can be prevented by making sure people are able to access treatment, but the Ministry of Health has refused to cover antiretrovirals despite repeated calls from health experts to do so.

"As premier, I would work with frontline providers and national experts to implement a strategy to reach the UNAIDS 90-90-90 goal. But we can’t wait until the next election; we need action now, and today, on World AIDS Day, I'm calling on the government to immediately cover all antiretroviral medications and introduce a new HIV strategy."

The strategy Meili calls for would be strongly informed by the work of the Saskatchewan HIV/AIDS Research Endeavour, which has been integral in bringing together the voices of key providers.

Elements of a successful HIV strategy would include:

1) A plan proportional to the problem, with clear accountability and a system for monitoring and evaluating results.

2) Immediate first-dollar coverage of all antiretroviral HIV medications

3) Province-wide education for HIV and HCV prevention, harm reduction, and the elimination of HIV-related stigma.

4) Universal screening for HIV and HCV

5) Dedicated and supported HIV care with the appropriate complement of specialists, including primary care, case management, social work, nursing, occupational and physical therapy, psychology and other necessary professional support.

6) Addiction support and harm reduction services including, where appropriate, supervised injection sites.

Meili’s policy release can be viewed on his campaign website.