During Aboriginal Aids Awareness Week, groups across Canada are reflecting on progress made to address the high rate of infections in the aboriginal community and sharing notes on what is working and what is not.
Like so many other health issues, the HIV infection rate is disproportionately high in the aboriginal community. In Saskatchewan it is more than three times the national average, and on some reserves it is up to 11 times higher.
The CEO of the all Nations Hope Network, Margaret Poitras, says more testing may be causing higher numbers, but she also says underlying issues like poverty are keeping the numbers high.
She says there is a still a huge stigma associated with HIV.
“That has to stop because these are human beings they are forcing off their communities, forcing out of agencies, even forcing out of family homes,” she says. “There is a lot of work to do, but our understandings and our teachings we want to share so people can understand it is time to change the way they look at another human being.”
Poitras has been an advocate for a made-in-Saskatchewan solution – one that focuses on a coordinated approach involving health-care providers, community leaders, as well as those infected. The new approach also has a major emphasis on ceremony and traditional teachings. Poitras says it is reaching more people since its launch last year.
“Indigenous people understanding the past, the present and the future of indigenous people is important if you want to help,” she says. “Let’s work together, let’s see how we can support people who are HIV-positive, in an indigenized manner.”
Every the hours a person is infected with HIV in Canada. Twelve per cent of those are aboriginal, even though they make up only about five per cent of the Canadian population.
The numbers for this year are not out yet, but the infection rates have been declining. In 2013, there were 129 news cases, down 27 per cent from 2012. Poitras says the numbers don’t mean much, because they are not accurate. She says there is still a big reluctance to get tested.
A three-day conference being held in Regina will look at the numbers and explore the solutions. The theme of the conference is “Think Globally, Act Locally.”