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Alarming rise in HIV among Caribbean and Africans in Canada

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 June10 TORONTO, Canada - An "alarming rise" in HIV prevalence among African and Caribbean immigrants in Canada has caught health officials "off guard" and prompted warnings that local governments "have failed to protect some of the country's most marginal communities," states a report in the Toronto Globe and Mail.

The newspaper article said Canadian government began testing all immigrants and refugees for HIV in 2002. Data released last year by Health Canada showed that immigrants from regions where HIV is endemic, including Africa and the Caribbean, form the fourth largest group of HIV-positive residents in Ontario, Canada, behind men who have sex with men and ahead of injection drug users.

An estimated 3,700 to 5,700 of Canada's 56,000 HIV cases are among immigrants from the two regions, the Globe and Mail reported.

Although immigrants and refugees sponsored by Canadian family members are allowed to enter the country regardless of HIV status, HIV-positive immigrants or people seeking work or study permits are refused entry if the government determines that they would place an "excessive demand" on the health care system, which is publicly funded.

Government statistics show that in 2003 13% of HIV-positive immigrants were denied entry and 677 HIV-positive immigrants entered the country, up from 276 in 2002. According to statistical modeling research conducted by University of Toronto researcher Robert Remis, up to 50% of HIV-positive immigrants from the Caribbean or Africa contracted the disease after they arrived in Canada, the Globe and Mail reports.

Esther Tharao of Women's Health in Women's Hands, a Toronto-area community health center, said that the Canadian government "has an HIV strategy for aboriginal communities, for [injection] drug users and gay men. But there is no information on how to deliver services to people from HIV-endemic regions."

However, Dr. Chris Archibald of Canada's Centre for Infectious Disease Prevention and Control said that the national government is aware of the increased HIV prevalence among African and Caribbean immigrants and that Health Canada has doubled the overall annual funding for HIV/AIDS programs to $66.8 million over the next five years.

Archibald said that a lack of reliable data -- such as not including ethnicity on HIV test reports -- makes tracking HIV cases among African and Caribbean immigrants more challenging. Bettie Christie, a counselor in Alberta, Canada, said she would like more government funding to hire translators and develop programs tailored to the cultural needs of immigrants. "A large percentage of the African population isn't yet willing to trust us," Christie said.

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