AIDS spreading rapidly among Canada's aboriginals

Tue Aug 25, 2009 1:45pm EDT
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By Rod Nickel

WINNIPEG, Manitoba (Reuters) - AIDS is spreading faster among Canada's aboriginal people than in the general population, and a strong cultural stigma and links to rising drug use make the problem difficult to solve.

One health official compared it last week to the AIDS epidemic in Africa and warned that up to 30 percent of the aboriginal population in the western province of Saskatchewan could die of AIDS within a decade.

Saskatchewan's top health official dismissed that prediction, but said the rapid spread of AIDS in the native population is a growing concern.

Many aboriginals, a broad term that includes Indians, Inuit and Metis, live in poverty and suffer poorer health than most other Canadians. They make up about 3.3 percent of the population, living mainly in western cities, the North and on rural reserves.

Despite their relatively small population, aboriginals accounted for almost one-quarter of Canada's reported AIDS cases in 2006 for which ethnicity was known, double the rate six years earlier, according to the Public Health Agency of Canada.

Intravenous drug use, especially among women, is the cause of more than half the infections with the human immunodeficiency virus (HIV), which leads to AIDS. Canadian non-aboriginal infections are mostly linked to unsafe sex.

Aboriginals with HIV infections also tend to be younger than other infected Canadians and more often women.

"(It's) partly because of the vulnerabilities of that group -- (especially) if they're addicted and dependent on the sex trade for their income," said Dr. Moira McKinnon, chief medical health officer for Saskatchewan.   Continued...

<p>Native flags fly during a protest and march in Vancouver, British Columbia June 29, 2007. REUTERS/Andy Clark</p>