Saskatchewan

Sask. needle exchange sites expanding services

Health officials and community groups are expanding the services offered at needle exchange sites in an effort to combat Saskatchewan's growing HIV epidemic.

Provincial health officials and community groups are expanding the services offered at needle exchange sites in an effort to combat Saskatchewan's growing HIV epidemic.

Dr. Moira McKinnon, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, told CBC News the sites need to address a long list of problems associated with intravenous drug use.

McKinnon noted that agencies working directly with people affected by HIV are finding clients in desperate need of assistance that goes beyond a supply of clean needles.

Margaret Akan, CEO of All Nations Hope AIDS Network, says many clients are in very poor health. ((CBC))
"You look at people who are actively injecting [and] sometimes I think, wow, they're like walking dead," Margaret Akan, the CEO of All Nations Hope AIDS Network, told CBC News about the people she encounters. "They're so malnutritioned, they're so sick with other diseases."

A researcher at the Royal University Hospital in Saskatoon is examining the relationship between infectious diseases and people, such as drug users, engaged in a risky lifestyle.

Dr. Stuart Skinner says his work indicates that many people, when they contract HIV, are not fit enough to combat the condition.

Infectious disease researcher Dr. Stuart Skinner says HIV seems to hit people in Saskathewan harder, compared with the rest of the country. ((CBC))
"With the general health status being poor, we see ... less ability to fight off these various infections," Skinner said.

According to Skinner's research, Saskatoon HIV patients are developing AIDS 50 per cent faster compared with the rest of the country.

McKinnon says Skinner's research is important when it comes to understanding why, in her province, a person's progression from HIV to AIDS can take place in a matter of months instead of the norm of two to three years.

Better accommodations, nutrition

McKinnon said needle exchange sites have already begun offering a wider range of services.

In some cases the service may be helping a client find a better, cleaner, place to live and other basic needs.

"Get them better access to nutrition," McKinnon said.

She said work is also being done to improve access to addiction counselling.

Dr. Moira McKinnon, Saskatchewan's chief medical health officer, says needle exchange clinics are expanding services to address a long list of social needs associated with intravenous drug use. ((CBC))
"Often ... someone comes in to get clean needles and they say, 'I'd love to kick this habit. I need to speak to somebody now,'" McKinnon explained. However, instead of responding immediately, the centre would only be able to schedule an appointment, often weeks away.

"And [the clients] go back to their crowded house and they go back to an environment where everybody is sharing needles and they never turn up for their interview in three weeks time," McKinnon said.

She said the goal is to have needle exchange sites become more comprehensive health centres that can address a long list of social needs associated with the problem.

"We have an epidemic of HIV in Saskatchewan," McKinnon said.

According to information from provincial and federal public health agencies, in 2008 Saskatchewan recorded 174 new infections of HIV.

That is a 40 per cent increase over the 124 new cases detected in 2007.

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