SASKATOON – Between 2011 and 2014 there wasn’t a single HIV-positive baby born in the province of Saskatchewan. However, the same cannot be said for 2015, according to provincial health officials.
“Unfortunately we’ve had two reported cases of HIV infection in babies and that infection would have been acquired during pregnancy or during labour and delivery,” said Dr. Denise Werker, Saskatchewan’s deputy chief medical health officer.
Aboriginal AIDS Awareness Week focusing on problems and solutions
Charlie Sheen sued: Ex claims he forced her to get an abortion because of HIV
Emma, Liam top 2015 list of popular baby names in Canada
READ MORE: HIV cases in Saskatoon rise during 2015
One other baby is under investigation for HIV infection in the province. Testing can take up to 18 months to confirm if a baby is HIV positive or not.
Officials could not confirm which health region(s) the babies were born in nor are there any details on what went wrong in terms of prenatal care for these women since HIV testing is offered to all expectant mothers as a standard of care.
Although not all mothers present for prenatal care and screening, said Werker, there are also occasions where a mother will test negative during her first test but due to ongoing risk factors become positive during pregnancy.
“I think this is an obviously very unfortunate situation for those families and those babies and it’s also something that should raise the alarm bells in Saskatchewan that our HIV problem is far from under control,” said Dr. Ryan Meili, who works among a team of physicians who care for up to 400 HIV-positive patients at Saskatoon’s Westside Community Clinic.
According to Meili, Saskatchewan has the highest incidence of new cases of HIV in the country. For a time the province had triple the national average of newly diagnosed cases, although we have since gone down to double the national average which Meili says “is still pretty bad.”
“So new cases, but also high levels of morbidity and mortality, meaning people getting sick with AIDS and actually dying from AIDS higher than the rest of the country,” said Meili. “So we’re not doing well enough.”
As for the two babies diagnosed in the province, Werker contested that the cases are an indication that things are out of control.
“It is certainly something of concern and is something we will continue to address.”
According to Werker, here are a few things to keep in mind when it comes to HIV in the province and the possible transmission to a baby:
In 2013-14, approximately 25 per cent of newly diagnosed HIV cases in the province have been among women of childbearing age;Without treatment, the risk of an HIV-positive mother passing it onto to her baby is 25 to 40 per cent; however, treated that number drops to two per cent;On average, there are 40 HIV-positive mothers who give birth every year and that number is expected to rise.
The province says it has an ongoing commitment to prevent and control the spread of HIV; however, rural and remote areas continue to be a challenge and there are now calls for them to adopt the 90-90-90 strategy.
“That we have 90 per cent of those people with HIV in the province diagnosed, 90 per cent of those who are diagnosed on treatment and 90 per cent of those on treatment with an undetectable viral load,” said Meili, who noted with that many people diagnosed and being treated, the rate of HIV transmission would plummet.
The province says internal discussions on whether to endorse the strategy continue but would not confirm when a decision would be made.