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First Nations & Inuit Health

HIV and AIDS

The Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) is the virus that causes Acquired Immunodeficiency Syndrome (AIDS). HIV severely weakens the immune system, leaving people vulnerable to many different types of infections and diseases. HIV is transmitted through:

  • Unprotected sexual intercourse;
  • Needle-sharing; and
  • Pregnancy, delivery and through breast feeding (from an infected mother to her infant).

While there are a number of efforts worldwide to identify an effective vaccine, medical science has not, to date, found a cure for AIDS. AIDS is fatal if left untreated.

Medications can enhance the quality of life of people living with HIV/AIDS, and many live full lives years beyond their initial HIV diagnosis.

Health Canada 's First Nations and Inuit Health Branch is actively engaged in working to address the HIV/AIDS epidemic among on-reserve First Nations people and in Inuit communities across Canada. We support communities in developing the knowledge, skills, and tools they need to prevent HIV transmission and to facilitate care and support for those infected and affected by HIV/AIDS.

Are First Nations and Inuit populations more at risk?

Although incidence (new HIV infections among the total population) has gone down in the Canadian population, it appears that HIV rates have been steadily increasing in First Nations and Inuit populations. They are at increased risk for HIV infections for several reasons. Social, economic, and behavioural factors such as poverty, substance use, including injection drug use, sexually transmitted diseases, and limited access to health services, have increased their vulnerability.

Facts on HIV and AIDS in First Nations and Inuit Populations

Aboriginal people in Canada continue to be over-represented in the HIV epidemic:

  • Although they represent only 3.3% of the Canadian population, Aboriginal persons comprised 5-8% of prevalent infections (persons currently living with HIV infection in Canada) and 6-12% of new HIV infections in Canada in 2002 ;
  • Injection drug use continues to be a key mode of HIV transmission in the Aboriginal community;
  • HIV/AIDS has a significant impact on Aboriginal women; and
  • Aboriginal people are being infected with HIV at a younger age compared to non-Aboriginal persons.

AIDS is now as pre-eminent in the Aboriginal population as it is in the general population.

  • 87.8 percent (16,986) of the total reported AIDS cases in Canada (19,344) have information on ethnicity (1979 to December 31, 2003);
  • 520 of these cases were among Aboriginal peoples;
  • According to this information, Aboriginal peoples make up 3.1 percent of reported AIDS cases; and
  • According to the 2001 Census, Aboriginal peoples make up 3.3 percent of the Canadian population.

Additional Information

For more information on HIV/AIDS, refer to Health Canada's HIV and AIDS section.