Saskatchewan

HIV epidemic sweeping Saskatchewan reserves

CBC’s iTeam has learned the rate of HIV on Saskatchewan reserves is 11 times higher than the national rate.

Specialist says federal and provincial governments ‘can do more’

Sask HIV rate on reserves 11 times national rate 1:21

Darryl Caldwell says he's ashamed to have HIV, but he says he has forced himself to overcome that feeling in order to help others. 

And the aboriginal HIV educator wishes more Saskatchewan chiefs and councils would do the same. 

CBC's iTeam has learned the rate of HIV on Saskatchewan reserves is 11 times higher than the national rate.

Caldwell said the disease is sweeping through some First Nations. 

"If you don't have it, someone in your family does, your cousin or your nephews or your nieces or — it spreads so — it spreads everywhere."

Darryl Caldwell is an HIV patient living on the Ahtahkakoop First Nation. (CBC)
Dr. Mona Loutfy, an infectious disease specialist at Women's College Hospital in Toronto, said the Saskatchewan epidemic is "unbelievable."

"You don't need to go to Africa to do HIV humanitarian work. You can go to Saskatchewan," Loutfy said.

Some chiefs have faced the problem and turned to Health Canada for help.

But Caldwell says others "would rather sweep it under the carpet and pretend they don't have it." 

"And there's a couple of reserves I know when you're found out you have HIV you're shunned you're ostracized from the reserve. So you're shunned out, you're kicked out of the reserve and you're asked to leave." 

He said that treatment is largely driven by widespread ignorance about HIV in many rural communities. 

"They still think they can get it from drinking from the same glass or sharing the same utensils or the toilet bowl," Caldwell said. 

He said he's doing his part to help change that. He and his partner travel the province educating First Nations people. 

Loutfy is calling on the federal and provincial government to do their part. 

"I don't think they're being aggressive enough," Loutfy said. "I think they can do more."

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