Doctors in Saskatchewan are calling on the province to declare a medical state of emergency over high rates of new AIDS and HIV cases.

A group of doctors, patients and indigenous leaders gathered Monday at a health centre in Saskatoon to highlight what they are calling an epidemic in Saskatchewan.

With the province leading the country in new case rates, the group is trying to raise awareness and spur change.

According to the Canadian Aboriginal AIDS Network, more than 17 in 100,000 people in Saskatchewan were diagnosed with HIV or AIDS in 2012. The overall average rate in Canada is less than six in 100,000 people.

“Real change is possible in Saskatchewan with respect to HIV if it is recognized and managed as the emergency that we believe it is,” Dr. Stephen Sanche, an infectious disease specialist said in a speech at the gathering.

Sanche said that when he speaks with his colleagues in other provinces, he realizes they are “not experiencing what we’re experiencing with our patients.

“So this is clearly a serious situation for Saskatchewan.”

A large number of those living with AIDS in the province are from aboriginal communities. They say the resources for their care are scarce in the community.

“My people do not have that support we live with the stigma and the discrimination every day,” Danita Wahpoosewyan, who lives with HIV, told the gathering.

In 2010, a four-year HIV strategy was implemented in the province. “We continue to implement that plan with the funding that the HIV strategy enabled to get, that funding continues,” said Dr. Denise Werker, Saskatchewan’s deputy medical health officer.

The province says declaring a state of emergency is not a part of the public health act. However, government officials told CTV Saskatoon that they do recognize that HIV and AIDS has been an epidemic for many years. The province said that more cases are being reported as people become better connected to health resources and medical testing services.

With a report from CTV Saskatoon’s Julie Clark