HIV in Canada: A primer for service providers


Canadian prisoners

Key Points

  • HIV prevalence in prisons is estimated at 1% to 8%.
  • Needle exchange programs are rolling out in all federal prisons starting in 2019.

Sharing drug use, tattooing and piercing equipment are primary risk factors for HIV transmission within the prison setting.

According to data released by Correctional Service Canada (CSC), the prevalence of HIV declined from 2.02% in 2007 to 1.2% in 2017. In the general research literature, estimates of HIV prevalence in Canadian federal prisons range from 1% to 2% for men and 1% to 9% for women.

From 2016-2017, CSC estimates that 96% of newly admitted inmates accepted a voluntary blood test for HIV; 94% of inmates known to have HIV were on treatment; and 91% had viral suppression.

All CSC institutions started rolling out prison needle exchange programs in January 2019 after two pilot sites were introduced in 2018. This initiative is aimed at helping to reduce the risk of HIV and hepatitis C within federal prisons.


On Point: Recommendations for Prison-Based Needle and Syringe Programs in Canada – Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network, Prisoners' HIV/AIDS Support Action Network (PASAN), Ryerson University

HIV prevention, treatment and care in prisons and other closed settings: A comprehensive package of interventions – World Health Organization

Prison Health NOWCanadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network

Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network. Clean switch: the Case for prison needle and syringe programs in Canada. Toronto: Canadian HIV/AIDS Legal Network; 2009. Available from:


  1. Kouyoumdjian F, Schuler A, Matheson FI, HwangSW. Health status of prisoners in Canada. Canadian Family Physician. 2016;62:215–222. Available from: Correctional Service Canada. Health Services Quick Facts: Human Immunodeficiency Virus (HIV) Age, Gender and Indigenous Ancestry. September 2016. Available from:
  2. Correctional Service Canada. Backgrounder: Correctional Service Canada Prison Needle Exchange Program. Available from:
  3. Correctional Services Canada. Overdose Incidents in Federal Custody, 2012/2013 - 2016/2017. January 2019. Available from:
  4. Public Health Agency of Canada. Summary: Estimates of HIV Incidence, Prevalence and Canada’s Progress on Meeting the 90-90-90 HIV targets, 2016. Public Health Agency of Canada, 2018. Available from: