HIV cases increased in Sask. with pandemic closures, Indigenous organization says

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Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, the finance and research Director of All Nations Hope Network, says the pandemic caused an increase in HIV cases.   (submitted by Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis - image credit)
Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, the finance and research Director of All Nations Hope Network, says the pandemic caused an increase in HIV cases. (submitted by Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis - image credit)

The pandemic caused an increase in HIV rates in the province and across Canada, according to a member from an Indigenous organization.

"What we've noticed in Saskatchewan is the rates of HIV have gone up, because people close their doors," said Margaret Kisikaw Piyesis, the finance and research director of All Nations Hope Network.

The organization works to support Indigenous people dealing with HIV and other illnesses.

Piyesis said during the pandemic, support institutions in place shut down, and there was a lack of services available for people with HIV.

As a result, she said there has been an increase in HIV cases within the province. Saskatchewan currently has the highest rate of HIV cases in all of Canada, and 80 per cent of the new cases are within indigenous communities.

"They didn't have a place to go, in terms of seeking assistance in terms of social services and other institutions and systems," she said.

Piyesis said addictions services, programs and shelters were shut down across the province. She said people could not access new druge use supplies or get information on prevention, awareness and treatments which increased the number of people with the infection.

As an Indigenous aid organization, Piyesis said All Nations Hope Network already knew this was an ongoing problem even before the pandemic.

"There is not enough services available to people who are at risk or living with HIV, period," she said.

Piyesis is working to raise awareness around the issue, and say provinces need to give more funding to organizations that are dealing with AIDS.

"There definitely needs to be an increase in funding for the local AIDS organizations in Saskatchewan, but also across Canada," she said.

Support in Regina

There are efforts being made in Saskatchewan to help those living with HIV.

All Nations Hope Network runs The Place of Hope and Awasiw in Regina. The organization offers a warm place for people dealing with HIV. They do testing there and hope to do more harm reduction work in the future.

They received ownership of their building from the province, a goal which was 15 years in the making.

"Now we can make changes to better meet the service of the people we are offering help to," said Piyesis.

"We feed them mentally, emotionally, physically and spiritually," she said.

The building, located at 5th Avenue, was originally built with money from All Nations Hope Network, and on Dec. 1 the province officially transferred ownership of the building to the organization.

Now with the deed to the building, the organization has plans to renovate and to put in a more "adequate space" for the amount of people coming in. Currently, they see an average of 400 people coming to their building every day. The location is currently open all day and night.

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