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Sask. outreach groups say HIV rates will suffer after federal funding cut

All Nations Hope had $350K cut in federal funding, while AIDS Saskatoon had $293K cut

Jason Mercredi says Health Canada cut $293,000 of funding for AIDS Saskatoon, which makes up about one third of their overall budget.

Jason Mercredi says Health Canada cut $293,000 of funding for AIDS Saskatoon, which makes up about one third of their overall budget. (Rosalie Woloski/CBC)

Two Saskatchewan organizations say they are left in the dark about why their federal funding was cut for AIDS and HIV outreach work.

Jason Mercredi is the executive director of AIDS Saskatoon and Jann Ticknor is with All Nations Hope in Regina. Together, the two organizations had a combined total of $643,000 of federal funding cut and they’re not really sure why.

“I don’t know if I can promise you we’ll be doing HIV work after March 31,” Ticknor told CBC Radio’s The Morning Edition on Thursday.

Saskatchewan has the highest rate of HIV cases in the country. A large portion of the cases is due to intravenous drug use. In northern communities, the number of cases is on the rise.

Ticknor said All Nations Hope provided services such as connecting clients with therapists, counsellors and healers, as well as basic things like community outreach and meals.

AIDS Saskatoon also provided services to central and northern Saskatchewan.

Together, the two organizations provided services to a significant percentage of Saskatchewan.

“In Saskatchewan, it’s ourselves in Saskatoon and All Nations Hope … who are also losing their funding, which is confusing for us, because between the two organizations, we actually do hit the whole province,” Mercredi told Saskatoon Morning.

The Battlefords Family Health Centre in North Battleford also had its federal funding cut.

“Through the HIV and Hepatitis C Community Action Fund (CAF), the Government of Canada is taking an evidence-based approach to support an integrated response to sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections, focusing on interventions which best reach populations at-risk and support interventions with the greatest potential for impact on disease prevention and reduction,” Health Canada said in a statement.

Ticknor said everything the two organizations did was prevention work, whether it was talking with the families or providing them with educational materials.

“So, they can say their piece about prevention but prevention and HIV is a much broader scope than intervening on people who don’t have it yet,” Ticknor said.

The funding provided to the organization now is transitional while the Sask. organizations without funding search for new funding avenues.

Mercredi said he thinks the HIV rates in the province will suffer.

“We’re not going to be able to work with the most vulnerable people in providing them the tools and information they need to prevent those infections from happening,” Mercredi said.


HIV tests face criminal trial in new documentary film, Criminally False

The team behind the multi-award winning(1) HIV/AIDS documentary Positive Hell today launches the third and final short film in its 2017 trilogy Positively Wrong. The new 11 minute film, Criminally False, explores what happened when the HIV test, almost universally relied on to judge whether or not people are HIV+, was itself tested for reliability under the rigours of the criminal courts, with legally ground-breaking results. Criminally False is now available on YouTube at .

Criminally False highlights two criminal convictions made on the grounds that the offenders had committed aggravated assault because they had tested HIV positive and had not disclosed that fact to sexual partners.

Anton(2) is interviewed in the film following his release from prison in Canada. Like a great many others, he was charged with multiple counts of aggravated sexual assault on the basis that he did not tell his sexual partners he had tested HIV positive. As a supposed sex criminal he had faced an extremely tough prison experience.

Criminally False
 writer and narrator Joan Shenton commented: “In telling Anton’s story, we’re asking if the HIV test stands up to legal scrutiny: does the test actually prove, to the standards required in a criminal trial, that someone who tests HIV+ is definitely carrying HIV, is likely to transmit it and is likely to cause harm? The manufacturers of the test want us to believe it is dependable but does the evidence for that stand up in court? Should Anton have been convicted?

The president of Rethinking AIDS, David Crowe, added: “An HIV test indicates that you have a higher than normal level of antibodies. That could be because you’ve been vaccinated with the flu vaccine – that’s one cause of a false positive. Another is because you’ve recently been sick. There are also auto-immune conditions that have been associated with false positive tests. So it might mean that you have a higher level of antibodies: it doesn’t necessarily mean that you’re sick or you’re going to get AIDS anytime soon.

The second story is of Sergeant David Gutierrez. In 2015, the U.S. Court of Appeals for the Armed Forces (the second highest court in the US) unanimously threw out an earlier conviction against the US airman for committing “aggravated assault” when exposing multiple sex partners to HIV at swinger parties. The appeal decision made US legal history, reversing 25 years of precedence.

Joan Shenton said: “The convicted airman was not accused of actually infecting anyone, only of having sex with them after a positive HIV test. His conviction was overturned because the US government could not prove that any of his acts were likely to transmit HIV to his partners or likely to cause them harm.

David Gutierrez’s appeal, which took five years, highlighted the absence of any definitive medical evidence about the likelihood of HIV transmission. Defence lawyers argued that the risk per sexual encounter ranged from 1-in-10,000 to 1-in-100,000. Prosecutors countered that it was closer to 1 in 500 but the court determined that even if the risk were 1 in 500, transmission of the disease was not “likely” to occur.

The appeal was initiated by the US’s Office of Medical and Scientific Justice. Its principal investigator, Clark Baker, decided to back Gutierrez because the transmission of HIV was not likely to have occurred. In Criminally FalseBaker also notes that Gutierrez had tested positive “after receiving a bunch of pre-deployment vaccinations and we know from the medical literature, the scientific literature, that vaccines will cause false positives on an HIV test.

The theme running through the Positively Wrong film trilogy is the unreliability of the HIV test, the possibility of false positive results and the harm they can do.

Joan Shenton said: “The world needs the test kit manufacturers and the medical profession to come clean on how reliable HIV testing really is and how many people are falsely found to be HIV+. It is a vital question for countless individuals and for the LGBTQ+ communities and for the developing countries that divert so much of their limited health resources on the basis of these test results.

The HIV test manufacturers’ package inserts state that there is no recognised standard for establishing the presence or absence of HIV-1 antibody in human blood and that the antibody tests cannot be used to diagnose AIDS. These statements are hidden away in legalese to protect themselves from liability. They know the public won’t be reading this, nor most doctors, and so people continue to suffer, whether from miscarriages of justice, social exclusion or fear of an unnecessary regime of antiretroviral drugs that can eventually compromise their immune systems.

Interviewed in Criminally False, David Crowe concluded: “I’d like to see the HIV test … analysed in court, because I think it would fall apart. That I see as the only way out of this horrible situation for HIV positive people.

Criminally False can now be viewed on YouTube at . The full Positively Wrong trilogy is on the Immunity Resource Foundation’s YouTube channel at . The trilogy will soon be re-edited into a single half hour film for theatrical screenings.


Could decriminalization of all drugs actually lower overdoses and violent crime rates?

Portugal changed their approach to combating illegal drug use from viewing it as a criminal problem to a public health issue and it seems to have worked wonders in the country. A lot of that success is due to the fact that the government also increased their social support services along with decriminalizing drugs. Instead of throwing addicts behind bars, they provide help with battling addiction, mental health, reintegrating back into society and finding affordable housing and jobs. With the current and ever-growing opioid epidemic here in Canada, those options for helping people look a whole lot better for the population than filling prisons with people who were prescribed too many painkillers and now can’t get off them. What if we all focused on rehabilitation instead of punishment?

The numbers say it all: Portugal has decreased their number of active addicts, instances of HIV, violent crime and most notably, the number of overdoses in the country. In Portugal, there are three drug-related deaths per million in the country compared to Canada’s 79 per million. They must be doing something right.

As with any radical plan or change in policy, there will be people resistant to the change. Critics of Portugal’s plan say that decriminalization will increase the likelihood of use or make the government look soft on drugs and crime, but Ian Culbert of the Canadian Public Health Association says there is no evidence to support those claims.

“In fact, the only risk is that we’re going to start treating people like human beings and not like criminals and giving them the proper supports to reintegrate them into society,” Culbert told Your Morning, “And who knows, we might even save tax dollars because it’s cheaper to support people and give them treatment to fight their addiction than it is to incarcerate them.”

Culbert pointed out that the most significant obstacle to instigating Portugal-inspired drug laws in Canada would be the mentality of the people. We have been indoctrinated to see addiction and chronic drug use as a weakness or criminal activity rather than an illness. We would have to collectively change our attitudes toward the entire public health issue in order to truly make that change in our justice system.



Marijuana Could Help HIV Patients Maintain Mental Stamina

A look at the science behind the study.


Marijuana Could Help HIV Patients Maintain Mental Stamina

Medical marijuana could be beneficial in helping HIV patients maintain their mental stamina, according to a new study.

Researchers at Michigan State University recently published a paper in the journal AIDS, which points to tetrahydrocannabinol, or THC, being a magical remedy when it comes to slowing the mental decline of HIV patients.

The study, which was released earlier this week, provides some evidence that details how the cannabis plant could be used to reduce this deterioration from the incurable virus by around 50 percent. It’s a factor that could give those inflicted with the disease a more coherent life.

“It’s believed that cognitive function decreases in many of those with HIV partly due to chronic inflammation that occurs in the brain,” said co-study author Norbert Kaminski. “This happens because the immune system is constantly being stimulated to fight off disease.”

The study reveals that cannabis acts as an anti-inflammatory in the brain of HIV patients, which prevents white blood cells and their proteins from running amok inside the body. When THC is introduced to the equation, it has an affect on these cells that could “slow down, or maybe even stop, the inflammatory process,” researchers say.

It is this process that could allow patients suffering from HIV to maintain a healthier cognitive function for longer.

To come to this conclusion, researchers studied the blood of 40 HIV patients, some of whom used marijuana and some who did not. What they found while isolating the white blood cells of each respondent was that the patients who did not use cannabis displayed a much higher rate of inflammation.

“The patients who didn’t smoke marijuana had a very high level of inflammatory cells compared to those who did use,” Kaminski said. “In fact, those who used marijuana had levels pretty close to a healthy person not infected with HIV.”

Although antiretroviral therapy is relatively successful in this day and age, it does not always prevent certain white blood cells from causing patients problems with inflammation.

However, if the results of this study hold true, cannabis medicine could prove effective in controlling this aspect of the disease. It is also possible that weed could be used to help patients with “other brain-related diseases like Alzheimer’s and Parkinson’s since the same inflammatory cells have been found to be involved,” said co-author Mike Rizzo.

The latest study is now part of a growing body of evidence showing that cannabis might lend therapeutic benefits to HIV patients. Researchers plan to continue investigating the plant’s impact on these cells to find out more about how the compounds found in marijuana can help.

HIV students complain of stigma in schools


Students living with HIV/Aids have decried stigma in schools where peers give them funny names and teachers using them as examples during reproductive health classes.

According to Huzairu Nyanzi, an HIV-positive student at Institute of Certified Public Accountants (ICPA), many infected students keep their status to themselves for fear of being blacklisted.

“When you disclose openly to a few students that you are HIV-positive or when they find you taking antiretroviral therapy (ART) drugs, they can spread rumors in the whole school and you end up being isolated. We are facing a difficult life at school,” said Nyanzi, the reigning Mr Y+ (Young people living with HIV).

“Some start to nickname you things like ‘taata kiwuka [father of virus] or mutambuza biwuka [virus transmitter]’ and many others, which is so depressing at our teenage age.”

L-R First Runner up Mr Y+ 2017/18 Godfrey Obuwa, Miss Y+ Bonita Kyobutungi and Mr Y+ Huzairu Nyanzi

Nyanzi was speaking at a meeting last week where Health Journalists Network in Uganda (HEJNU) in partnership with UNFPA-Uganda and Reach a Hand Uganda (RAHU) discussed innovative strategies to fight HIV.

It was noted that discrimination goes beyond students whereby teachers use HIV-positive students as case studies and other call them names such as ‘nandwadde’ (ever-sick) when they miss class. This affects their class performances.

Bonita Kyobutungi, Miss Y+ and a student of Bishop Cyprian Kihangire SS Luzira, said young girls should not fear to disclose their HIV status because it is their life at stake.

“I disclosed my HIV status because I want to act as an ambassador for young people living with HIV and this will help us to fight the pandemic and live longer. I don’t fear taking drugs at school since it’s for my life and without it, I can’t live longer. I have talked to my colleagues and they have also opened up now and don’t fear to talk about it,” she said.

UNFPA’s Dr Christine Nabiryo said blamed parents for the increasing rates of new HIV infections. She said parents ‘busy’ themselves and forget to talk to their children about dangers of HIV/Aids.

“The systems that used to be there like the aunties, cultural and religious leaders to talk and guide our children are no longer there. If we don’t talk to our children, they will die of HIV,” she said.

She said at least 360 young people get infected with HIV every week in Uganda as some are looking for quick money, others through early marriages and/or defilement.

“This is so threatening to our country; as parents, we need to style up and talk to our children,” she said.

Dr Carol Nakazzi of Uganda Aids Commission said we can end HIV if all people do their responsibilities: parents must advise their children to stay in school, religious leaders should stop marrying young couples and police must arrest defilers.

by Zurah Nakabugo


New numbers show 65 suspected opioid overdose deaths so far in 2017

Nearly twice the number of deaths in 2016, three times as many as in 2015

Aid workers hope the new federal Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which provides immunity from simple possession charges for those who call 911 in the case of an overdose, will encourage more people to call for help, and prevent deaths.

Aid workers hope the new federal Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which provides immunity from simple possession charges for those who call 911 in the case of an overdose, will encourage more people to call for help, and prevent deaths. (CBC)

New numbers from Waterloo Regional Police show the rate of suspected overdose deaths continues to rise at rapid rate in the region.

To date, 65 people have died from suspected opioid overdoses in 2017. In 2016, there were 38 deaths and 22 in 2015.

“It’s not good news,” said Michael Parkinson, community engagement coordinator for the Waterloo Region Crime Prevention Council. “Those numbers, like other communities across Canada, are going the wrong way.”

Opiod overdose deaths 

  • 2016: 38 people
  • 2015: 23 people
  • 2014: 22 people
  • 2013: 22 people
  • 2012: 25 people

Part of the problem, Parkinson told CBC’sThe Morning Edition host Craig Norris, may be people fear being arrested if they call 911 when an overdoes happens.

Numbers from research conducted by the Crime Prevention Council back in 2012 show just 46 per cent of the time, people called 911 during an overdose emergency, compared to a 90 per cent call rate for cardiac arrest.

“The primary barrier to making that call was fear of entanglement with the criminal justice system,” Parkinson said. “It was fear of the police that was preventing people from making that lifesaving call.”

Good Samaritan Law

The council launched a new awareness campaign Thursday to educate people about the new federal Good Samaritan Drug Overdose Act, which became law in May.

In May, Minister of Public Safety and Emergency Preparedness Ralph Goodale‌ said the act “provide[s] immunity from simple possession charges for those who call 911 in the case of an overdose.

“This law ensures that you can call for help when someone is having a drug overdose and stay to provide them support until emergency responders arrive with guaranteed immunity from certain charges related to simple possession of illegal drugs.”

The act was a private member’s bill that passed quickly with little fanfare or publicity.

“A private member’s bill in Canada can’t have resources attached to it. So you can’t include a budget, for example, for promotion. So we knew this would be a gap,” Parkinson said.

That’s why they, in partnership with the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network and the Law Foundation of Ontario, created a fact sheet and wallet card that explains the law in plain and simple terms.

wallet card overdose good Samaritan FRONT
wallet card overdose good Samaritan BACK

The fact sheet and wallet cards can be printed out from the Crime Prevention Council’s website, and the Law Society of Ontario is funding the production of 50,000 of the wallet cards, which can be ordered through the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network.

“Whether you’re working in enforcement, someone who is using drugs, someone in service provision. This really clarifies what the law does and does not do,” Parkinson said.

According to the act, it provides protection from:

  • Possession charges for controlled substances.
  • Breach of pre-trial, probation, conditional sentences or parole provisions.

But the act does not provide protection from what the federal government considers “more serious offences” including:

  • Outstanding warrants.
  • Production and trafficking controlled substances.

The fact sheet and wallet cards can be printed out from the Crime Prevention Council’s website. The Law Society of Ontario is funding the production of 50,000 of the wallet cards, which can be ordered through the Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network website.

Author: Jackie Sharkey


British man barred from becoming airline pilot because he’s HIV-positive

According to Buzzfeed News, the man has been prevented from fulfilling his ‘boyhood dream’ by the Civil Aviation Authority because of his HIV status. As a result of the CAA’s decision the man, referred to only as Anthony, is unable to take up an offer from EasyJet to join its pilot training scheme – despite saving up for years to pay for the training. ‘It has had a fundamental impact,’ he told Buzzfeed. ‘It means the one career choice I want to make and want to do, I’m being told no, and the cause of that is because I’m HIV-positive. ‘It has destroyed a boyhood dream for me. It makes it difficult to accept the [HIV] diagnosis, because you want to believe there are no restrictions to you, but actually there are.’ He had been accepted onto the EasyJet pilot training scheme. HIV-positive people are allowed to apply for a commercial pilot’s licence in the Netherlands, Australia, Canada and New Zealand. Man’s ear bitten on train because his friend was talking too loudly on the phone However, the CAA claims it is following European rules set by the European Aviation Safety Agency (EASA) – although current pilots who become HIV-positive are able to continue flying. One of the scientists behind the research upon which the policy is based has also called the authorities’ interpretation of the evidence ‘simplistic’ and ‘naive’, while Anthony says the research is now ‘outdated’. Anthony is now being supported by his MP, Patrick Grady, and two leading HIV charities. HIV treatment has changed dramatically over the last 30 years Lilian Greenwood, the chair of the transport select committee, has also written to Transport Secretary Chris Grayling calling for an investigation. Grayling is yet to reply. Kat Smithson, director of policy and campaigns at National AIDS Trust, told Buzzfeed: ‘There have been enormous developments in HIV treatment and in our knowledge about how HIV affects the body over recent years. Rapist tried to burn down victim’s home after she gave evidence against him ‘It is imperative that these developments are reflected in policy to avoid unnecessary and discriminatory barriers to equality for people living with HIV. We urge the CAA to review their policy and ensure that it reflects current medical evidence and advice.’ Dr. Michael Brady, Medical Director at HIV charity Terrence Higgins Trust, told ‘We’re appalled at the decision made by the CAA in this case, which totally goes against the Equality Act 2010 and reinforces the already damaging stigma that faces people living with HIV in the UK. ‘There is no reason someone living with HIV should not be able to fly a plane, and we hope to see this decision overturned as soon as possible.’ MORE: UK Problems at Waterloo cause travel chaos for fourth day in a row Prank caller convinced elderly couple he was their son confessing murder People ‘wanting flexible hours and career breaks’ are killing the NHS George Valiotis, CEO of HIV Scotland, said: ‘Modern-day policies enable people living with HIV to maintain jobs such as doctors, nurses, or even if they are an existing pilot. CAA’s policy not allowing new pilots living with HIV to obtain a licence is discriminatory. ‘As HIV is a protected characteristic under the Equality Act, this discrimination by the CAA is a serious violation of that law. The CAA has to ensure that their policies take into account the correct, up-to-date medical evidence, and it is clear they have failed in this duty. ‘If they won’t take immediate action to remedy this, then they must join us around the table, with medical experts, to review their policy.’


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Cuban Epidemiologist Highlights Actions in the Fight against HIV/AIDS

Massive increase in HIV testing contributes to effective harm reduction programs in Sask. Indigenous communities

Dr. Ibrahim Khan, regional medical health officer for Health Canada, stands for a photo during an HIV knowledge-sharing conference at the Saskatoon Inn on February 14, 2017. MICHELLE BERG

Harm reduction models in Indigenous communities across Saskatchewan have been showing signs of success even as rates of HIV infections continues to rise.

Dr. Ibrahim Khan, the chief medical health officer for Health Canada’s First Nations and Inuit Health Branch in Saskatchewan, says even though there was a 10 per cent increase in HIV cases in Indigenous communities in 2016, the massive increase of HIV testing in these communities is a positive step towards stopping the virus’s spread.

“For us this is quite an achievement,” he said. “The whole point in the HIV and Hepatitis C story is the earlier you can diagnose, the better you have a handle on stoping the spread … but we want to increase that number — we want to even double that number in the coming years — so that testing is not an barrier.”

Taking this harm reduction approach helps communities reduce the negative consequences associated with drug use by providing the care each patient needs without judgement, he said. Harm reduction can encompass anything from promoting safe drug use at injection sites and needle exchanges to beating addiction with help from opioid replacement and addictions programs.

Currently 19 Indigenous communities in Saskatchewan have implemented harm reduction programs to limit the spread of Hepatitis C and HIV. This access to care in a culturally safe space has created a centre where a patient can be immediately linked to all the necessary services they need without facing the stigma that can sometimes be attached — the biggest hurdle Khan says currently faced by Indigenous people looking for care.

One of the most successful is the New Beginning Program. Khan says although it’s a relatively new program — run and led off reserve in Kamsack by the Cote First Nation — it has shown massive success dealing with the stigma surrounding HIV, providing cultural safety for its patients, offering skills building and outreach services and limiting the main risk factor for the spread of these viruses through a needle exchange program.

Though the 19 communities that have implemented these programs are seeing positive results, Khan says Health Canada wants to see even more communities introducing safe injection sites — especially those where blood-born pathogens such as Hepatitis C and HIV are gaining a strong foothold.

Current rates of HIV infection on Saskatchewan reserves vary across the province but still sit at a much higher level than the 2016 provincial average of 14.5 people infected out of 100,000. Reserves in southern Saskatchewan currently have the highest rates of HIV infection at 108 people per 100,000, followed by those in central areas of the province at 32 per 100,000 and those in the north at 28 per 100,000.



Older antiretroviral regimens raise diabetes risk in HIV-positive adults

HIV-positive adults who initiated older formulations of antiretroviral therapy are more likely to develop type 2 diabetes than patients who initiated therapy between 2010 and 2015, according to study findings reported in BMJ Open Diabetes Research & Care.

“Combination antiretroviral therapy (ART) has dramatically increased the life expectancy of people living with HIV; however, they are now developing comorbidities associated with prolonged survival and aging, and these may be occurring at earlier ages than in the general population,” Faizal Samad, clinical trials coordinator with the AIDS Research Program at St. Paul’s Hospital in Vancouver, British Columbia, Canada, and colleagues wrote in the study background. “Many [people living with HIV], particularly those who received older antiretroviral treatments, experienced peripheral fat atrophy, visceral fat accumulation and metabolic comorbidities, including dyslipidemia and impaired glucose homeostasis, which can lead to increased risk for cardiovascular disease and other related morbidities.”

Samad and colleagues analyzed data from 1,065 patients with HIV aged at least 50 years who initiated ART before July 2015 and did not have diabetes at baseline. All participants were treated at a large urban HIV outpatient clinic at St. Paul’s Hospital through July 2015. Researchers identified diabetes incidence through database records and chart review. The rate of new-onset diabetes was defined as the number of cases of diabetes divided by the total number of person-years of follow-up. A final, multivariable analysis used data from 703 participants — excluding patients who started ART before 1997 and did not have plasma HIV viral load results in the period before initiating therapy.

During a median of 13 years, researchers observed 235 new diabetes diagnoses among the entire cohort, for an incidence rate of 1.61 cases per 100 person-years.

Of the 703 patients included in multivariable analyses (89% men; 73% white), 132 developed diabetes. Among those with diabetes, 43% had hepatitis C virus coinfection, 8% had hepatitis B virus coinfection and 38% had a history of injection drug use. The median HbA1c was 5.8% for the 36% of patients with diabetes who had HbA1c results available, according to researchers.

Patients who initiated ART between 1997 and 2004 were more likely to develop diabetes vs. those who initiated ART between 2010 and 2015 (30% vs. 2%; P < .001), with an adjusted OR of 48.9 (95% CI, 21.32-112.17). Increased length of time on ART also increased the odds of developing type 2 diabetes (aOR = 0.69; 95% CI, 0.64-0.74).

The patients who developed type 2 diabetes tended to be younger at the end of the study, had a viral load of at least 500 copies/mL for a greater proportion of follow-up time and had a lower CD4 count at end of follow-up compared with those who did not develop type 2 diabetes; however, these associations did not rise to significance in adjusted models, according to researchers.

“Longer exposure to ART agents and the use of older drugs were associated with a higher incidence of [diabetes] in our study,” the researchers wrote. “On the other hand, obesity, HCV coinfection, and older age were not associated with the incidence of [diabetes] in this cohort. The incidence of [diabetes] is likely to decline in [people living with HIV] who initiated ART more recently with the use of newer ART agents.” – by Regina Schaffer