New HIV cases have fallen by more than 50 percent since 2016, the health unit said



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Middlesex-London Health Unit (photo file)

New cases of HIV reported in the London area have dropped more than 50 percent in two years, a new report by regional public health authorities said, praising coordinated community responses to controlling the outbreak.

The Middlesex-London Health Unit reports 29 new HIV cases diagnosed in London in 2018, down 52 percent from 61 in 2016, the single highest annual calculation in the history of the institution.

"For years before that, they were quite stable," said Shaya Dhinsa, manager of sexual health at the Middlesex-London Health Unit. "We try to understand the risk factors and how they might contract HIV and most (cases) are people who inject drugs."

After a series of new cases diagnosed in 2016, the health unit launched a response team to reach the homeless population and drug users in the city, groups whose lifestyles put them at high risk for infectious diseases including hepatitis A or HIV.

The team consisting of two nurses, two outreach workers, and a program leader took to the streets in June 2017. The group followed a similar program model for HIV-positive and risky people on the east side of downtown Vancouver.

Team members build trust with people at risk, educate them about reducing HIV transmission, bring them to medical agreements, and help them navigate the health care system.

"It takes time to involve people who inject drugs. Some don't believe the system, some don't want to care immediately, "said Dhinsa." Over time, the caseload has increased and more and more clients are really involved in care. "

Clients handled by the outreach team have increased from 25 in mid-2017 to 124 at the end of 2018, the report said.

Increased access to harm-reduction supplies including clean needles and stoves and targeted education campaigns on safer drug injection practices have also helped reduce new HIV cases, the report said.

Although opened in February as an emergency measure to reduce the increase in deaths from opioid overdoses in the city, Dhinsa said the site for temporary overdose in Regional HIV / AIDS Connection on King Street has also helped reduce the number of new HIV infections by increasing access and awareness of hazard reduction initiatives .

Although the number of new HIV cases reported last year in the London area was the lowest since 2013, Dhinsa said the work of the outreach team was far from over.

"There are always other risks," he said, adding that the outreach team had helped the health unit deal with vaccine-preventable outbreaks of hepatitis A among the homeless population and city drug users in the fall.

"The outreach team has supported our infectious disease team in ensuring people who inject drugs. . . has been given support and vaccines. Customers know who they are and they trust them. "

The report will be submitted to the health council at Thursday's meeting.

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