Province should step up HIV fight with universal drug coverage, NDP says

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Province should step up HIV fight with universal drug coverage, NDP says

The province should provide universal coverage for antiretroviral drugs for people diagnosed with HIV to combat Saskatchewan's high rates of infection, says the NDP opposition.    

The party's health critic, Danielle Chartier, said she is hearing from front-line workers that people with HIV may skip taking their medications or ration their drugs due to not being able to afford the cost, which is as much as hundreds of dollars a month.

Antiretroviral drugs are highly effective in the treatment of HIV, but Chartier says taking these drugs irregularly cuts down on their effectiveness.   

"The reality is this: we have the highest rates here in Canada and we're the only province who doesn't fund them 100 per cent," she told reporters following question period on Wednesday. "That's just not acceptable."

People are falling through the cracks due to lack of treatment, and that leads to the spread of the virus, Chartier said.

"This is about prevention through treatment," she said.

In Saskatchewan, there were 170 new cases of HIV/AIDS infection found in 2016, almost triple the national average.   

Most Sask. residents covered, health minister says

While Saskatchewan doesn't provide universal access to antiretroviral drugs, the province's health minister says 93 per cent of Saskatchewan residents are covered, including the most vulnerable, low-income people and anyone living on a reserve.

Anyone spending more than 3.4 per cent of his or her income on antiretroviral drugs also receives coverage beyond that amount, Jim Reiter said.

The province is taking a hard look at providing blanket coverage for the remaining seven per cent, he said.

"We're seriously considering doing it. But we want to be cautious because some of that gap, that seven per cent, is currently covered under private plans," Reiter said.

"We don't want to get in a position where government tax dollars are starting to backfill that."

From estimates he has heard from the health department, providing universal coverage for antiretrovirals may cost the province an extra $700,000. 

The majority of new cases of HIV are reportedly attributed to intravenous drug use, he said, pointing to the need for more education for people about risky behaviours that can increase the risk of infection.