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June 26, 2017

PNHR Project Aims to Normalize HIV Testing for All

Prairie North Health Region has unveiled a unique quality improvement project aimed at increasing HIV testing and improving connection to treatment and primary care for PNHR residents living with HIV.

“HIV is different now,” said Dr. Erin Hamilton of North Battleford. “HIV is treatable and people with treated HIV can now have the same life expectancy as people without HIV. Anyone can get HIV and the only way to know your status is to get tested,” she stated. HIV Poster June 2017

Hamilton and a team of PNHR Medical Health Officer Dr. Mandiangu Nsungu, Physician Dr. Trish Campbell, and Regional HIV Strategy Coordinator Merle Nightingale are spearheading a project to normalize and increase HIV testing in the Battlefords and area by having all patients routinely offered the test at all points of health care contact.

“This means that patients between the ages of 13 to 70 may be offered an HIV test not just from their primary care provider but also from their specialist, or in the local walk-in clinic or emergency department. The project target is to increase HIV testing in The Battlefords by 50% by November 2017,” Hamilton explained.

The intent is to replicate the project throughout Prairie North, once it is successfully implemented in The Battlefords.

Testing involves drawing a blood sample that is then sent to the provincial laboratory in Regina for examination.

“The key is to ensure connection and medical follow-up with patients diagnosed as positive for HIV so they can be cared for and treated with medication. While there is no cure for HIV, it can be effectively treated so that when on treatment, no virus is detectable in the patient's bloodstream. HIV is no longer a death-sentence,” Dr. Hamilton stressed. “Treatment can dramatically reduce HIV transmission rates.”

HIV rates in Saskatchewan are high and getting higher, at about 14 people newly infected with HIV each year among every 100,000 persons. Saskatchewan's HIV rate is 2.4 times higher than the national rate of nearly six per 100,000 people in 2015. PNHR's HIV infection rate is very close to that of the province. In Saskatchewan in 2015, 160 persons were newly diagnosed with HIV infection.

Routine HIV testing is recommended in Saskatchewan, with the number of HIV tests having increased 69% from 2006 to 2015. As HIV testing becomes increasingly routine, stigma and discrimination around the condition lessen. According to the Public Health Agency of Canada, one in four people with HIV don't know they have it.

On Saskatchewan's Provincial HIV Testing Day, individuals are encouraged to stop by the following locations to take the HIV test and learn more about HIV and testing:

Remember, everyone who does not know his or her HIV status and is between 13 and 70 years of age should be tested. You are also encouraged to speak with your health care provider about being tested for HIV.

Say “YES!” to the Test.

For more information or to arrange interviews, contact:
Linda Lewis, PNHR Communications Officer 306-446-6625

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