Human immunodeficiency virus or HIV, is the virus that causes AIDS (acquired immune deficiency syndrome). HIV affects the body’s immune response, making it unable to fight infections. A few cases of what is now understood to be AIDS were documented prior to the 1970s, however it wasn’t until the mid-late 1970s that the HIV/AIDS epidemic began. 

In the early 1980s, before health authorities fully understood the risks, some 2,000 Canadians died as a result of receiving untested blood products. Since 1983, approximately 21,000 people in Canada have died while infected with HIV or AIDS. Many of the early infections occurred in the gay community, causing some to unfairly lay blame on the victims. Initially referred to as “gay-related immune deficiency” (GRID), the face of HIV and how it is understood has changed dramatically over the past thirty years.

The HIV/AIDS epidemic is far from over. Globally, more than 70 million people have been infected with the HIV virus and about 35 million people have died of HIV. As recently as 2016, doctors in Saskatchewan called on the provincial government to declare a public health state of emergency. There was a 6% increase in new cases, with 79% of those self-identified as Aboriginal. In some areas, the 2016 rates were more than 10 times the national average. In 2018, researchers identified mutated strains of HIV in Saskatchewan, which cause faster-developing AIDS-related illnesses. HIV/AIDS, although chronic, is no longer terminal if properly treated. Equal access to health services and early diagnosis are essential to ending this global epidemic.