The Middlesex London Health Unit is asking for more resources to combat an alarming increase in HIV and hepatits C infections, a situation it calls "a public health emergency."

Injection drug use is a major cause for the skyrocketing rates, according to a statement from health officials issued Tuesday.

"The Middlesex London Health Unit will ask its board to consider reallocating health unit resources to ... address what is being called a local public health emergency," the statement reads.

According to the health unit, HIV infections in London nearly doubled in the past decade, going from 5.9 cases per 100,000 people in 2005 to 9.0 last year.

Those figures stand in contrast to the rest of the province. HIV rates across Ontario dropped from 7.4 cases per 100,000 people down to 5.5 cases in the past 10 years.

London has also seen a spike in hepatitis C rates, which climbed from 32.2 cases per 100,000 people to 53.7 cases, an increase of more than 60 per cent.

The figures show a clear need for a supervised injection program, said Dr. Chris Mackie, medical health officer for the region.

"There is an urgent need to do more outreach to both understand and manage this complex problem," he said in a news release. "What we're seeing is an indication that we need a supervised injection site in London."

More than 2.5 million needles are handed out to drug users each year in London, Ont., making the city second to only Vancouver when it comes to publicly funded needle use in Canada.

Health officials have been studying the need for an injection site program in the region in a bid to prevent overdoses and the spread of diseases. Should a London program move ahead, it would likely include several locations instead of just one, Mackie explained.

"Forcing everybody to come to one place to get all that is not a great model," he said.

Jessica Pope