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 mortality rates and increased morbidity for those living with the virus, with far higher rates of death and severe illness among Saskatchewan patients than anywhere else in Canada.
Working with HIV-positive patients and their families has been a major part of Dr. Meili’s medical practice, and lack of political action on prevention and treatment motivated him to run for office. He has been an outspoken advocate for evidence-based responses to the HIV crisis, grounded in a harm reduction approach that takes guidance from people living with HIV/AIDS and those who support them. Among frontline providers and international experts, there is a strong consensus on how to decrease the rates of HIV and how to help HIV-positive people stay healthy. What has been missing in Saskatchewan is the political will to take action — and this lack of action is incredibly costly in every sense.
The cost to the province of each new case of HIV is 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. At a total cost of $500,000 per year, we could extend coverage to all antiretrovirals, improving access to treatment and decreasing the likelihood of transmission. It would not take long for this measure to pay for itself in reduced numbers of new cases.
As premier, Meili would work with frontline providers and national experts to ensure Saskatchewan reaches the UNAIDS 90-90-90 targets: that by 2020, 90% of people living with HIV will know their status; 90% of HIV-positive people will receive sustained antiretroviral therapy (ART); and 90% of those receiving ART will have viral suppression.
But people can't wait until the next election; we need action now, and we call on the government to immediately cover all antiretroviral medications and introduce a new HIV strategy.
Our plan would be strongly informed by the work of the Saskatchewan HIV/AIDS Research Endeavour, which has been integral in bringing together the voices of frontline healthcare workers, service providers, and community members.
To face the HIV crisis in our province, we need a new, multi-year HIV strategy for Saskatchewan, which 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.
If you share Ryan’s commitment to addressing the HIV crisis, please consider signing on to support his campaign to lead the Saskatchewan NDP into the next election.