Two hands holding red ribbonSaskatchewan’s HIV epidemic is spreading to its youngest and most vulnerable.

This year, two babies were born infected with HIV in Saskatchewan. There is also a third case currently under investigation. In 2014, no babies were born with HIV.

Health officials and advocates like Dr. Denise Werker say it speaks to an even bigger problem.

“We have HIV rates in this province that are twice the national average,” Werker said. “The fact that we had zero cases of transmission last year is perhaps luck.”

The province said some women don’t go through prenatal screening and others lead high-risk lifestyles.

An HIV positive mother without diagnosis has a 25 to 40 per cent chance of passing the virus on to her newborn. With treatment, the percentage drops to two per cent.

In 2013-14, 25 per cent of new HIV infections were among women of child-bearing age.

“We know there are approximately 40 HIV positive pregnant women each year,” Werker said. “We would expect that number to increase.”

HIV transmitted differently in Saskatchewan

Margaret Poitras, CEO of All Nations Hope AIDS Network. (CBC)

Nationally, 50 per cent of infections are spread through sex between men. In Saskatchewan, 50 per cent of infections are spread through intravenous drug use.

Margaret Poitras, CEO of All Nations Hope AIDS Network, said that kind of addiction makes testing for the virus difficult.

“The way that HIV is being spread in this province is through injection drug use and I can say we’re not doing a good job of reaching people that are most at need here,” Poitras said. “When we talk about indigenous people, we have an epidemic going on here with HIV that hasn’t been addressed.”

Dr. Ryan Meili wants the province to adopt a fresh strategy to end the HIV epidemic. (Kathy Fitzpatrick/CBC)

Dr. Ryan Meili runs a clinic in Saskatoon that treats HIV-positive patients. He wants the province to adopt the UN-AIDS 90-90-90 strategy.

“We should know at least 90 per cent of who has HIV, so screen enough to diagnose 90 per cent,” Meili said. “90 per cent of those diagnosed should be on treatment. And 90 per cent of those in treatment will be at the minimum well controlled.”

The Ministry of Health said it is discussing all options — including the 90-90-90 strategy.

Author: CBC News

Photo: Manjunath Kiran/AFP/Getty