HIV cases becoming a crisis in Manitoba, harm reduction group says

A harm reduction group along with the provincial opposition says HIV is becoming a crisis in Manitoba.

Two hundred rapid HIV tests have been handed out to people in Winnipeg by Sunshine House. The harm reduction centre gives them out at events and at their mobile overdose prevention site.

“We haven’t had a reactive test so far, we’ve had a couple of invalids and folks have come back and confirmed with another test,” said Helina Zegeye, Gizhiwenimin project coordinator. “We are ordering more and hope to have given out 400 by the end of the program.”

Still, Zegeye says there is new information showing a sharp increase in HIV cases in the province.

“The new data is showing that in addition to the traditional demographics, a lot of new cases are coming in for women, for people who use and inject drugs, and for people who are racialized or Indigenous,” said Zegeye.

The issue was raised in Wednesday’s question period by the Opposition NDP.

“The increase in new HIV cases in Manitoba is a public health crisis,” Uzoma Asaguara, the NDP health critic.

Published provincial numbers on HIV show there has been a steady increase in cases in recent years, with 108 confirmed cases in the first half of 2022.

Asaguara said the NDP obtained further information showing 280 confirmed cases for the whole of last year, and 74 cases so far this year.

CTV News was unable to independently verify the HIV case numbers provided by the Manitoba NDP.

In response, Manitoba Health Minister Audrey Gordon says HIV is taken very seriously.

“We are actively working with public health to improve the prevention and treatment of HIV and aids,” Gordon said on Wednesday.

The health minister said an Indigenous-led sexually transmitted infection testing and contact tracing strategy is being funded and prevention drugs were recently added to the provincial coverage.

“It’s not just HIV that’s the problem here, it’s the fact that folks don’t have access to that treatment and a pathway to care after receiving or getting to access testing,” Zegeye said, adding this is a crisis of care and a cause and effect of colonization.

“It’s not a coincidence that these demographics are so heavily affected when they are the ones already dealing with so many marginalized issues.”

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