This City Is Using Needle Vending Machines to Combat HIV and STI Outbreaks
The Canadian province of Saskatchewan has some of the highest rates of HIV diagnosis.
A vending machine with sterile drug-use equipment such as clean needles was installed in North Battleford, Saskatchewan, as STI and HIV outbreaks in the area continue to cause concern.
The first vending machine was installed in July and others are expected to follow in the nearby cities of Lloydminster and Meadow Lake.
The vending machines are part of a larger public health effort in the area that seeks to provide clean supplies to drug users — with the help of other drug users.
Drug users are provided with backpacks with clean supplies that they are paid to distribute to their peer.
People access the supplies in the vending in machines with tokens provided by local organizations, such as the Battleford Indian and Métis Friendship Centre — the machine is located in front of the centre.
This marks the first time vending machines and backpack distribution have been used to limit outbreaks, according to Danielle Radchenko, sexual health coordinator for the Saskatchewan Health Authority.
"We've had quite a few people coming to the peers asking them for supplies [and] feeling comfortable to ask them how they can get more support," Radchenko told CBC. "Whether that's if they want to go for treatment for their use of drugs or whether or not it's just someone they can talk to that they feel like they can get connected [to] for some counselling support."
North Battleford is a small town of about 14,000 and it had 15 new cases of HIV reported from Jan. 1 to the end of May. This area had an average of four per year between 2013 and 2018.
In The Battlefords Lloydminster areas, there were also 42 reported cases of syphilis in the same period — the annual number for this illness is generally fewer than seven.
Radchenko won a grant of $200,000 from the Public Health Agency of Canada to run this program, and she said it her part of her plan to bring in more peer workers to respond to the issue of increasing STI rates, according to CBC.
There were 2,402 of new HIV diagnoses in Canada in 2017 — up by 3% from 2016, and 17.1% from 2014, according to the most recent government data.
Although Ontario reported the highest number of HIV cases with 935 cases, Saskatchewan reported the highest provincial diagnosis rate at 15.5 per 100,000, and this is an issue the province has been struggling with for some time.
While the province has seen decreases in urban like Saskatoon and Regina, it’s seen vast increases in some of the smaller, more remote communities, like the Sunrise Health Region, which saw an 800% increase in HIV cases in 2016.
And in July 2018, mutated strains of the virus surfaced in the province.
UNAIDS' 90-90-90 plan works towards ensuring that 90% of people who are HIV-positive know their status, 90% of those diagnosed are receiving anti-retroviral treatment and that 90% of people on treatment have a level low enough that they don't risk transmitting the virus.
This is a global target, and implementing local solutions is a necessary step to achieving it.
While programs targeting prevention and responding to outbreaks like the installation of vending machines and the distribution of clean supplies are vital, some have highlighted the need for root causes to be addressed, such as poverty, marginalization and the effects of colonization within the province.