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AIDS Worker Says Pipes Could Help Canadian Province With Highest HIV Rates

An AIDS support worker is calling on the province of Saskatchewan to make pipes more available to drug users as a means to decrease HIV rates.

Jason Mercredi from AIDS Saskatoon believes that if drug users had pipes, they would be less likely to use needles.

"The chance of getting HIV or passing on HIV through a meth pipe is very slim," Mercredi told CBC. "The rate drops quite a bit."

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Saskatchewan has the highest rates of HIV in Canada. While the province has seen decreases in city centres like Saskatoon and Regina, it’s seen enormous increases in some of the smaller, more remote communities, like  the Sunrise Health Region, which saw an 800% increase in HIV cases in 2016.

Just last month, research showed that mutated strains of the virus have surfaced in the province. The mutated strains of HIV are increasing the speed at which AIDS-related sickness develops in the Indigenous population, according to the study.

Right now, Mercredi said Saskatchewan does not provide pipes as part of its harm reduction plan. The province said it’s because community agencies haven’t informed it that pipes are necessary.

Saskatchewan delivers $562,000 per year for various harm reduction programs, including offering needles, syringes, education, naloxone kits, and condoms, according to CBC.

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But some health workers say that pipes could provide further help — and they are already available in other provinces.

Smoking instead of injecting can help people battling with addiction, according to Maxime Blanchette, a social worker with L'Actuel, a sexual health clinic in Montreal.

"They're alive. They're feeling well with using the pipes instead of the needles," Blanchette told CBC. "They're more ready to decrease the consumption.”

Although pipes can still transmit diseases like hepatitis, they eliminate the possibility of transmitting HIV because they do not involve needles and, therefore, blood.

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Still, there is no actual evidence to suggest that free pipes actually do reduce infection rates.

Others have suggested that while it’s a good start, simply handing out pipes will not fix the crisis.

"We have to balance out those kinds of solutions with solutions that are getting to the root causes of what we're seeing with Indigenous people," Margaret Poitras, CEO of All Nations Hope, an AIDS organization in Regina, told CBC.

Almost 80% of people living with HIV in Saskatchewan are Indigenous.

"We need other solutions that are getting to the roots because we don't want to see revolving generation of generation not healing and being well," she said.