Saskatchewan HIV, HCV education program continuing at USask College of Medicine

The University of Saskatchewan (USask) College of Medicine’s Division of Continuing Medical Education (CME) has taken over the delivery of education on human immunodeficiency virus (HIV) and hepatitis C virus (HCV) for primary care providers. Funding of nearly $100,000 from the Saskatchewan Ministry of Health will support the program for one year.

The education program helps address the complexities driving sexually transmitted and blood borne infection (STBBI) rates in Saskatchewan and their impact on patient care. Content will include the clinical treatment and management of infections and will feature the involvement of HIV/HCV experienced care providers, organizations, and community members to create made-in-Saskatchewan solutions to the province’s unique environment and challenges.

Critical to the past and continuing success of this program are faculty and staff in the Department of Medicine’s Division of Infectious Diseases at the USask College of Medicine. Infectious disease specialists Dr. Alex Wong (MD) and Dr. Beverly Wudel (MD) will oversee the creation and delivery of the medical education, with additional guidance provided by an advisory group of family physicians experienced in providing HIV and HCV care in clinics across the province.

“We’re very pleased to have worked with our partners and colleagues already involved in delivering this important program to now be able to continue this critical work,” said Dr. Jim Barton (MD), CME associate dean. “This would not have been possible without the support of our provincial government. And we are happy to make this announcement today, on National HIV Testing Day in Saskatchewan.”

For the past 10 years, Saskatchewan has had the highest rate of new HIV and Hepatitis C diagnoses in Canada and the fastest growing rate of syphilis infections in the country, resulting in an urgent need to educate primary care providers to recognize, test, treat, and manage these infections in their clinical practices.

“The government is pleased to fund initiatives and programs that improve the capacity and confidence of health-care providers to diagnose and treat sexually transmitted and blood borne infections (STBBIs),” said Minister of Health Paul Merriman. “Programs like the STBBI Treatment Education Program for Saskatchewan (STEPS) will help improve access to health-care professionals in more communities across the province, and reduce the stigma many feel around testing and treatment.”

Up to March 2022, the STBBI primary care provider education program was delivered by the Saskatchewan Infectious Disease Care Network (SIDCN) as the Primary Care Capacity Improvement: Treatment as Prevention Project, with four years of funding from the Public Health Agency of Canada, Harm Reduction Grant. This new STBBI program, renamed STEPS, will feature the continuation and growth of education originally offered by the SIDCN.

“I am so grateful that the amazing work that was being done will continue—now with the educational leadership of CME, the involvement of experienced medical experts and staff, the important guidance of existing project stakeholders, and the support of the Ministry of Health,” said Dr. Satchan Takaya (MD), infectious diseases specialist.

STEPS will build from and utilize resources used by SIDCN’s past project. This will include the continuation of the popular HIV and HCV Virtual Classrooms that discuss testing, treating, and managing these infections in Saskatchewan. Based on feedback, a new Syphilis Virtual Classroom will be launched along with several other new presentations all related to addressing and managing STBBIs in the province.

The program will be targeted to primary care providers, family medicine residents, nurse practitioners and registered nurses, as well as other allied health-care professions. A limited number of clinical mentorship opportunities will be available for physicians and nurse practitioners who can benefit from applying virtual classroom content in a clinical setting under the guidance of experienced HIV and HCV specialists and physicians.

By housing a new STBBI program within CME, there is an opportunity to reach more learners and showcase the expertise and support of faculty from the Infectious Disease Department and Family Medicine. The program will also provide opportunities for collaborating with other STBBI stakeholders and strengthen the efforts needed to support front-line providers and improve access to clinically informed and stigma-free STBBI health care.

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