09/19/2014 03:46 EDT | Updated 06/16/2017 01:01 EDT

Saskatoon Health Region says HIV rate in the area dropping, but still too high

SASKATOON - Health officials are reporting some encouraging statistics about the high rate of the virus that can lead to AIDS in the Saskatoon area.

The Saskatoon Health Region says the rate of new HIV infections in the region has gone down 59 per cent between 2009 and last year, but is still about twice the national rate at 12.8 people per 100,000.

Officials credit the drop in the rate to more people getting tested for HIV, especially people who are considered at high risk.

Dr. Johnmark Opondo, deputy medical health officer, says it is now easier for people to be tested because of expanded screening services and new rapid point-of-care tests.

He says the province is also working to improve access to treatment before HIV can develop into AIDS.

The health region says rates of AIDS and HIV deaths are high because cases are often diagnosed in the late stages of infection.

"More people are getting tested for HIV, including those considered high risk, and this is a positive step forward for prevention," he said Friday in a release.

"Positive test results for high risk populations are also declining."

Last year, more than one in every five people with AIDS was diagnosed within one month of a positive HIV test result.

The region says that indicates that people need to be reached earlier for testing and treatment.

"Early testing for HIV is important," he said. "When people know their HIV status, they can be supported to get the treatment they need to stay healthy and avoid passing HIV on to others."