News Releases

News Release - Manitoba

July 4, 2024

Manitoba Government and Research Manitoba Announce Recipient of Dr. Dick Smith HIV Epidemiology Grant



The Manitoba government, along with Research Manitoba, would like to congratulate Dr. Titus Olukitibi of the University of Manitoba's department of medical microbiology on being the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Dick Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship in HIV-AIDS Research, Health, Seniors and Long-Term Care Minister Uzoma Asagwara announced today.

“It’s wonderful to see the work of Dr. Smith – work that he cared so deeply about – expanded and carried on by Dr. Olukitibi, to whom I extend my congratulations and appreciation,” said Asagwara. “Given Manitoba’s rising rates of HIV, there’s an urgent need to deepen our understanding of the disease and build knowledge and data that will drive local solutions and help prevent the disease from spreading.”

“I congratulate Dr. Olukitibi on being the inaugural recipient of the Dr. Dick Smith Postdoctoral Fellowship in HIV-AIDS Research,” said Advanced Education and Training Minister Renée Cable. “His contributions to medical microbiology through the University of Manitoba continue to increase knowledge around prevention, transmission, and treatment of HIV-AIDS in our province. His research is integral to determining the factors that make people more susceptible to HIV-AIDS.”

Dr. Olukitibi’s project, “Bridging HIV and STBBIs Science and Educational Outreach in Winnipeg,” aims to address the rising number of HIV cases in Manitoba. His research will focus on educational outreach to high school students, particularly those from underserved and immigrant communities, to increase knowledge about HIV prevention, transmission and treatment. Additionally, the project will investigate the link between solvent use and increased susceptibility to HIV, offering important insights into prevention strategies.

“I am very thankful for being awarded the 2024 Research Manitoba Dr. Dick Smith Research Postdoctoral Fellowship in HIV Epidemiology,” said Olukitibi. “This funding will greatly advance our HIV, sexually transmitted and blood-borne infections educational outreach and research initiatives in Manitoba and will allow us to expand our efforts in educating high school students and IBPOC communities about the risk factors and prevention of HIV.”

The fellowship was created by the Manitoba government and Research Manitoba in honour of the esteemed legacy of Dr. Dick Smith, a visionary pioneer in HIV-AIDS patient treatment and education in Manitoba. The fellowship supports an exceptional postdoctoral researcher dedicated to advancing the understanding and management of HIV epidemiology in Manitoba.

"We are grateful to the Manitoba government for establishing this important fellowship,” said Jennifer Cleary, CEO, Research Manitoba. “This initiative honours Dr. Smith’s legacy and empowers researchers like Dr. Titus Olukitibi to advance HIV prevention and education. By supporting innovative research, we are making significant strides in addressing HIV-AIDS challenges in our communities. Research Manitoba is proud to be part of this important work.”

Public health officials have identified HIV as a provincial priority, due to the significant increase in infection rates over the past decade. The Manitoba government is enacting policies to help control the spread of the disease including the new Manitoba HIV Medication Program.

Under the program, HIV medications are now free to all eligible Manitobans, with no Pharmacare deductible and no application requirements. Eligible HIV medications include antiretroviral therapies that treat HIV, pre-exposure prophylaxis for people who may be at ongoing risk of exposure to HIV and post-exposure prophylaxis that helps prevent people from getting HIV after a possible exposure.

The new approach reduces barriers for individuals living with HIV and makes it easier to access needed medications. Consistent use of HIV medication improves the quality of life of a person living with HIV and can help prevent transmission, which is critical to slowing the spread of HIV in Manitoba, Asagwara noted. It also responds to long-standing requests from community-based organizations to reduce barriers to accessing medication.

People who have full coverage and do not have to pay a deductible through a provincial or federal drug plan will continue to access HIV medications through those programs. All other Manitobans, including people already enrolled in Pharmacare, will now be able to access HIV medications at no cost through the Manitoba HIV Medication Program. Regulatory changes have been put in place to support this change under the Prescription Drug Cost Assistance Act.

“The changes we’re making will help get medication into the hands of more Manitobans who need it,” said Asagwara. “This is about removing barriers and increasing accessibility to get prevention and treatment to support people living with HIV, while also enabling our partners in the fight against HIV.”

As part of its ongoing efforts to help treat and prevent further HIV transmission, the Manitoba government is:

  • funding community-based projects that improve access to HIV prevention and intervention including mobile care service;
  • developing the Program to Access Treatment for HIV and Support (PATHS);
  • supporting ongoing work with Ka Ni Kanichihk’s Mino Pimatisiwin Sexual Wellness Lodge to provide culturally safe care; and
  • hiring dedicated staff across the province who support public health follow-up for sexually transmitted blood-borne infections cases and contacts.

For more information about the Manitoba HIV Medications Program, visit: www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/cdc/sti/hiv-faq.html.

Manitoba’s 2022 surveillance report on HIV is now available at: www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/surveillance/hivaids/index.html. Information about HIV for the public and health-care providers is available at:

www.gov.mb.ca/health/publichealth/diseases/hiv.html.

For more information about the fellowship, visit https://researchmanitoba.ca/funding/programs/dr-smith-fellowship.

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