Canada said on Monday it needed to do more to fight the spread of the HIV virus and AIDS after new data showed the number of victims infected was growing steadily.
The number of people with HIV/AIDS is now about 58,000 - 0.2 percent of the population - compared with 50,000 in 2002. More than a quarter of sufferers do not know they have been infected, the Public Health Agency of Canada said in a report.
“I wouldn’t interpret this data to say the programs (to combat the disease) are not working, but certainly more needs to be done,” said the federal agency’s Dr Frank Plummer.
“The number of Canadians living with HIV infection will likely continue to increase in years to come as new infection rates continue and survival rates improve,” he told reporters on a conference call.
Plummer said money needed to start flowing from a federal fund designed to cut infection rates among the most vulnerable sections of the population. These include aboriginals, who have an infection rate three times higher than other Canadians.
Other groups at risk include women - who represent about 20 per cent of all Canadians infected with HIV - as well as prisoners and people from countries where HIV is endemic.
An estimated 2,300 to 4,500 new HIV infections occurred in 2005 compared with 2,100 to 4,000 in 2002, the last time the health agency compiled such a report. The majority of overall cases, 51 percent, stem from men having sex with men.
“Canada still has a way to go before the threat of HIV/AIDS is eliminated. Groups that have seen a decrease in infection rates are still considered at-risk and progress to date cannot be taken for granted,” the health agency said.
Next month Toronto will host a major international conference on AIDS but Prime Minister Stephen Harper - whose Conservatives take a relatively hard line on social issues - will not be present.
Harper, who plans to reopen a debate on whether to scrap laws allowing gay marriage, also skipped the opening of a gay and lesbian games festival in Montreal over the weekend. Public Works Minister Michael Fortier attended instead and media reports said he was loudly booed when he tried to address the opening ceremony on Saturday.
Revision date: June 20, 2011
Last revised: by Jorge P. Ribeiro, MD