HIV infection rates decline in Windsor-Essex in 2019

Windsor-Essex County Health unit's latest figures show HIV rates are down to 9 infections this year. The previous year there were 27.

HIV infections are down from 27 last year to 9 this year

Medical officer of health, Dr. Wajid Ahmed, says just because HIV infections are down this year, may not mean it is on a downward trend. (Angelica Haggert/CBC)

October figures from the Windsor Essex County Health Unit show a decrease in HIV infections in the area.

Numbers show this year nine people were infected with HIV, while last year there were 27. The 5-year average for infections is 20. According to the health unit, the infection rate fluctuates.

"One year is definitely not a predictor of what would happen in the future," said Wajid Ahmed, Medical Officer of Health for WECHU.

Rates in the province and in Canada have been fairly consistent, but he said in smaller cities when you see the number change they hope it's a true decrease. There are many efforts to reduce the number of HIV incidents.

"HIV is now almost treated as another chronic disease that people get and can stay on the medication and avoid some of those complications and live pretty much a normal life," said Ahmed.

He encourages people to get tested, especially those at higher risk, including those with multiple sexual partners, men who have sex with men, sex trade workers, and injection drug users.

Michael Brennan, executive director of the AIDS Committee of Windsor, says there could be many reasons for the decline. (Dale Molnar/CBC)

The AIDS Committee of Windsor's executive director, Michael Brennan said the decrease could be from less people being tested this year or those who may be infected have moved to another area. He said it could also be from some of the initiatives like advocacy and more awareness around PrEP, pre-exposure prophylaxis.

"It's a way for HIV negative people who are at risk of HIV infection [to protect themselves]," Brennan said. "They can reduce their risk of getting HIV by taking antiretroviral drugs. So there's been a greater focus on bringing awareness around that prevention intervention."

Medications that treat HIV also prevent HIV transmission, he said. If an HIV positive person is taking treatment that suppresses the virus to undetectable levels, that person has an undetectable viral load.

"In other words undetectable HIV is sexually untransmittable," Brennan said.

The AIDS Committee of Windsor is also working other prevention initiatives in the community, including providing condoms and sterile needles.

Even so, stigma is still prevalent toward people living with HIV. Some have challenges with family, others face barriers accessing care. It can also be issues with housing because of stigma held by landlords. Brennan said they do a lot of educational work and outreach to combat stigma.

"We certainly take the time out to have a conversation with any individual who has questions around HIV and HIV transmission."