Increased Coverage with HIV Therapy Could Reduce Transmission and Generate Health Care Savings: Study

Vancouver, July 2, 2008 — A new study by the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS (BC-CfE) reveals the dramatic impact that increased coverage with HIV therapy could have in reducing HIV transmissions in B.C. while saving money for the province’s health care system.
The study, published in The Journal of Infectious Diseases, used a novel mathematical model to assess the potential effects of increased treatment coverage with Highly Active Anti-Retroviral Therapy (HAART) among HIV-positive individuals in medical need of treatment in British Columbia. The model is reflective of the next 25 years.

“We’ve known for some time that the expansion of coverage with HAART could help to reduce the number of new HIV infections. However, we were amazed at the actual number of new infections that can be potentially adverted by expanding access to treatment,” says BC-CfE director Dr. Julio Montaner.

Despite universal access to health services and antiretroviral therapy in B.C., over 50 per cent of patients fail to access treatment in a timely fashion.

According to the study, an increase in HAART coverage from a level of 50 per cent among those in medical need, to 75, 90 and 100 per cent could lead to a decrease in the annual number of individuals testing newly HIV positive for the disease by over 30, 50 and 60 per cent respectively.

The study consistently predicted that enrolling at least 75 per cent of individuals clinically eligible for treatment would be associated with a substantial decrease in new HIV infections.

In terms of cost, the BC-CfE’s study shows that if HAART expansion was done immediately, it would generate total and per capita lifetime treatment cost savings starting at $95 million and $368 thousand, respectively.

“Even though immediate HAART uptake has initial cost implications in the short-term, our research shows that more new people will test positive for HIV the longer it takes to expand coverage,” Montaner explains.

“The study results provide powerful additional motivation to accelerate the roll out of HAART programs,” Montaner adds. “We need to aggressively target those in medical need, both for their own individual benefit and as a means of decreasing new HIV infections in the general population.”

HAART has led to a dramatic decrease in morbidity and mortality among individuals infected with HIV, and international guidelines widely recommend that HAART be used before overt immune deficiency is apparent.

For a full copy of the study or interview requests, contact Stephen Burega, media relations at 604-506-3734 (c),

About Highly Active Antiretroviral Therapy (HAART)
HAART consists of taking three (or more) antiretroviral drugs on a daily basis for life. The therapy requires very high levels of adherence in order to be fully effective. The therapy decreases levels of the virus in the body and this allows the immune system to recover. Once HIV levels in blood decrease to 50 copies/mL or lower, the risk of transmitting HIV decreases significantly. HAART became the standard of care for the treatment of HIV/AIDS in 1996. The BC-CfE distributes HAART medications to all eligible British Columbians, free-of-charge, through the province-wide Drug Treatment Program, funded by Pharmacare.

About the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS
Founded in 1992 by St. Paul’s Hospital and the provincial Ministry of Health, the BC Centre for Excellence in HIV/AIDS is a key provincial resource seeking to improve the health of people with HIV through the development, ongoing monitoring and dissemination of comprehensive investigative and treatment programs for HIV and related diseases. St. Paul’s Hospital is one of seven care facilities operated by Providence Health Care, Canada’s largest faith-based health care organization.